2 Ways Social Media Fuels Shame

Shame is the result of two things: expectations and exposure. The constant whispers of shame are “You’re not who you should be!” (expectations) and “They’re gonna find out who you really are!” (exposure). Consequently, we strive to live up to expectations and to avoid exposure.

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A (relatively) recent invention has created entirely new levels of both expectations and exposure for people in the modern world.  It’s called “social media.” The myth of progress and civilization battled hard to eradicate shame from Western culture. And they nearly did…until Facebook and Twitter rode into town.

  1. The expectations induced from social media come not from the advertisements in our feeds, but from the images of our peers’ amazing life. We no longer have to keep up with the Jones on the screen, but the hundreds of Jones we now “follow.”  (I’ve recounted elements of my social story here.)

2. Regarding exposure, social media has virtually dismantled the private/public dichotomy.Anyone’s smartphone has the power to capture and broadcast one misspoken word or untimely gesture. What you do anywhere anytime can be revealed to the entire world. By fueling heightened levels of expectations and exposure, social media has become a new cultural arena for honor and shame. The recent emergence of “internet shaming” and “cyber bullying” testifies to this significant cultural shift: our reputation is now digital.

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Technology has revealed the heights of human achievement as well as its lowest depths and idolatries. Consequently, there has been substantial reflection on shame and social media.

The five articles (and one video) below are well-researched and insightful. I highly recommend them.

  1. The Return of Shame,” by Andy Crouch at Christianity Today. As shame becomes a dominant force in Western culture, Christians become more open to understanding shame in the Bible.
  2. Rage, Public Shaming and Modern-Day Pharisees,” by Scott Sauls at Relevant. A pastoral reflection on the dangers of the online mob mentality, and how to overcome “outrage porn.”
  3. The New Nonconformist Conscience” at First Things. A historical look at how Christians have applied shaming to enforce public ethics.
  4. How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Stucco’s Life” at The New York Times. An examination of various lives ruined by public shaming.
  5. The Shaming of Izzy Laxaman” at Slate. When a girl kills herself after her father cuts her hair, it repeats the stories of public shaming in medieval history.

And finally, Monica Lewinsky has an excellent TED talk titled The Price of Shame“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” she says. “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”

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2 comments on “2 Ways Social Media Fuels Shame
  1. Jim Stauffer says:

    In light of the convenience with which we can indulge, it becomes increasingly important that Christians restrain the urge to shame their opponents. It was embarrassing enough when Christians used print media to attack their opponents’ character rather than engaging their ideas. At least much of the non-Christian world ignored the books and journals where Christians aired their dirty laundry. Now, thanks to social media, both our family squabbles and our fortress mentality have become entertainment that is easily accessible to anyone who cares to ridicule our faith.
    Here’s my rant:
    Now more than ever, we need to examine the fears that drive us to engage in this shaming (and shameful) behaviour. How can we restore the public honour that belongs to our Saviour’s name? There is definitely a place for apologetics and even polemic contention for Biblical truth. However we need to demonstrate to the world that we are capable of respectful dialog that honours the opponent while disagreeing with his or her conclusions. Without that, we fit the stereotype of the crackpot much more closely than a follower of Christ who can be taken seriously. Of course, when we are fearful that an opponent might demolish our beliefs with his arguments it is much more difficult to maintain a respectful dialog. If the media we chose to consume (read/listen to) is mainly spiteful diatribes with which we agree, we will not build the foundation of faith that provides us the confidence to be respectful in “contending for the faith”.

    So I wrote this some time ago, then waited to post it while considering a suitable conclusion. I found my conclusion in Seth Goodin’s blog. Seth puts it so concisely, “the best way to avoid (using) contempt is to look for your fear.”

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