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A note on public shaming

and Dominic Cummings

· Book Review,Opinion

A few years ago I read a book by Jon Ronson called 'So you've been publicly shamed'. It explores how individuals have been raked over the social media coals because of what they have said or done in a way that is arguably disproportionate to the action that got them there in the first place.

Often these people are made out to be terrible human beings, when they are just people who have made stupid comments or stupid mistakes. They suffer from long term abuse and irreparable damage to their reputations, hide out, lose their jobs and struggle to get new ones because a quick google search pulls up their past actions, and then, if they are in the privileged situation to do so, they pay through the nose for someone to essentially bury all the bad online press. In some situations they are not even guilty of the crime they are accused of, because it's a case of mistaken identity or because a comment has been taken out of context. But because of the nature of the internet, there is never a correction or apology. Often the unwitting 'trolls', who probably don't even consider themselves to be trolls and are ordinary reasonable human beings in real life, just go back to their day jobs or move on self righteously to their next cause.

There were cases in this book that I was aware of and I had definitely shared in an outraged way on my social media. Now knowing all the facts I realise I contributed to the problem. It changed the way I used the internet, and how I think about online reactions and outrage. You should read it, I think it might change your behaviour, too.

It's through this lens that I view any kind of public outrage that is pointed at an individual. I have no interest in giving an opinion on whether Dominic Cummings was right or wrong in his actions over the last few weeks, but I will say this. He is a human being who is flawed like everyone else. It is right that in his position he should be required to answer for his behaviour, but I do not believe it is right to personally insult him, to stand outside his family home and harass him, or to continually berate him and his family in the media. In my opinion, this is probably more of a reflection of the stress and distress of the British public, and the boredom of the British press than anything else. It's a digital version of a stoning and I'm pretty sure we are better than that.

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