Question Forum 6

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The questions and responses in this forum refer to Chapter 4 (76-102) in Solove's The Future of Reputation. For reference, the Dialogue Sequence assignment. Discussion leaders will post their commentaries — Team 6 commentary — within a week after the class presentation on November 17.

Question 1

Solove presents several examples at the start of Ch. 4 that demonstrate norm regulation through mass shaming and persecution of individuals. In cases such as the NY Subway Flasher, who actually committed a repulsive crime and was reprimanded, do you think the internet vigilantism and exploitation of the image is justified due to long-held societal standards of shaming perpetrators? Do they in turn deserve the public shaming they receive?

Question 2

Do you think it's appropriate and dutiful for ordinary citizens to act as cybercops and regulate normbreakers? Should lawmakers and law enforcers have a hand in aiding regulation?

Question 3

Solove argues that Internet shaming has value. He claims, “In a world of increasingly rude and uncivil behavior, shaming helps society maintain its norms of civility and etiquette” (92). Furthermore, people often use the Internet to “fight back [and] to voice their disapproval of inappropriate behavior [or]…poor customer service” (92). How do you feel about the rise of websites dedicated to punishing norm transgressors like Holla Back NYC, the Shitty Tipper Database, and Don’t Date Him Girl? Is it acceptable to punish and embarrass those who violate social norms in this way? Is it permissible up to a certain point before it's considered an excessive violation of privacy?

Question 4

Solove claims that “like companies, individuals can have ‘slickly manicured’ reputations, and shaming might expose these reputations as a façade” (94). Does Internet shaming provide us with valuable information to assess others' reputations, or do you think it potentially reveals too much about a person’s private identity? Should we be allowed to keep our private-self distinct from our public-self?

Question 5
Pg. 95 - Martha Nussbaum thinks that shaming is too degrading to a person's dignity for a respectable society to encourage it. Solove goes on to state that there is such thing as "temporary shaming" and it is much less problematic than everlasting shaming. Do you agree or disagree with these statements? How do you feel that temporary shaming effects the individual, community, and their interaction/participation within the community and www?

Courtney Carlson
Response to Question 2

Although I understand the urge for a layperson to act as a “cyber cop” and regulate the norm breakers, I do not think it is appropriate. To me, a “cyber cop” is a grown-up version of a tattletale. When we were 6, if we took an extra cookie at snack time, or cut one of our classmate’s hair, we didn’t want anyone to tell on us, but our little kindergarten minds expected it to happen. Tattletales have no authority over their peers, but deem themselves the right to speak out about someone’s wrong doing.

Similarly, cyber cops have no authority over the people they are policing, but just find it necessary—whether it be for personal satisfaction, or because they see it as their civic duty—to police those who are acting inappropriately on the Internet. However, because Internet technology and the uses for it are constantly changing, it is difficult to say what is appropriate behavior on the Internet. I definitely think that the student who posted a blog about his friend who wanted him to write a Hinduism paper for her acted inappropriately. Sure, he claims he just wanted to evoke some “irony” from the situation, but I think he was out of hand. If he felt that strongly about his friend breaking the rules, he could have simply refused to write the paper for her.

If lawmakers and law enforcers got involved, the situation could be alleviated, but could also be blown out of proportion. We all have the choice to act inappropriately on the Internet by posting controversial pictures, blog posts, and deeming things on the Internet inappropriate is very controversial. Many sites are set up as open-forums, and are intended for people to voice their personal opinion about topics. We are all give the right to free speech until it harms another person.

Law enforcers could effectively assuage the problem by filtering these sites and keeping tabs on what types of things are posted. This process would be complicated, and would probably take many years to perfect.

Kristen Walker
Response to Question 3

I understand why websites like Holla Back NYC, the Shitty Tipper Database, and Don’t Date Him Girl exist and have such a following – people always want to complain about and get back at those they feel have wronged them, and there’s no bigger audience than the www. However, there are a number of problems that stem from this means of social norm enforcement, and Solove frequently addresses what I consider to be the two greatest issues with this practice. First of all, since the Internet is essentially a permanent record, posting information about a norm violator is almost always too severe in relation to the offensive act. While accusing the offender online may lead to a just punishment in the short run, the fact that the virtual record can never be fully erased inevitably leads to permanent damage to that person’s reputation, which is an excessive punishment. My second concern is how easily false information can be spread, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, I am willing to bet that a large percentage of profiles on Don’t Date Him Girl were created specifically to spread lies about ex-boyfriends after a heated breakup or to keep him off the dating market. While these posts may seem like a way to temporarily relieve a broken heart or hurt pride, they are far more damaging than they are beneficial to society because there is no clear differentiation between lies and the truth.

What puzzles me most of all in regard to these stories of Internet shaming is the way the public seems to take everything as truth. All Internet uses are aware of the unreliability of much web content, and yet posts to the Shitty Tipper Database and Don’t Date Him Girl are routinely accepted as fact by many users of the sites. The public as a whole needs to adopt a more critical eye and a greater sense of skepticism when reading web content posted by unknown contributors to prevent the spread of lies that permanently damage reputations.

I’m especially confused by how strongly some people care about incidents posted online that affect them so little. Do people have so much time on their hands that they can spend their days posting nasty comments about a cell phone thief or the attempted plagiarism of a college student when they were not affected by either incident? Such events happen all the time and no one takes much notice, but as soon as it is posted online, people who would have never known or cared about the incident take an extreme interest in condemning the offender. Personally I am baffled by the surge of responses to such extreme norm-enforcing practices.

Alex Orchard-Hays
Response to Question 3

I think that, as Solove suggests at the end of the chapter, “shaming is an important tool for social control, yet it can be dangerous if unchecked” (101). Websites dedicated to punishing norm transgressors enable us to strip away the anonymity that comes with population growth and urbanization, making the transgressors accountable for actions that would otherwise go unnoticed except by the very few. However, those who report the transgressors must also be held accountable for the accuracy, relevancy, and proportionality of their reports, much the way professional news sources are. But part of the value of the Internet as a societal regulator is its capacity for openness and extremely free speech, which includes lies, exaggerations, threats, and even violent rallying. Solove’s example of The Nuremberg files is a particularly disturbing example of the “group polarizing effect,” where the more a group has the freedom to converge on a particular issue, the more extreme its point of view becomes. I feel that sites must prevent this mob mentality by regulating their posts and requiring posters to identify themselves individually and specifically. This only seems fair; as the posters are singling individuals out for ridicule, criticism, or shaming, they should be required to single themselves out for accountability.

Yes, I do find it acceptable to punish and embarrass those who violate certain social norms, but only to a certain extent and only if there is not an excessive violation of privacy or misrepresentation of information. To me, an ideal system for a shaming website would notify the transgressor somehow of a posting about him/her pending review, allow him/her to contact the poster and potentially resolve the issue, and then have the posting removed before it goes live if the poster and site regulators see fit. This would allow the transgressor to voice his/her side of the story to the site regulators, defend his actions, and/or apologize. This solution is far from perfect, however, because people on both sides can always lie, exaggerate, react irrationally, wrongfully accuse, misinterpret and/or ignore the circumstances of situations. But more regulation on shaming sites – by making posting more difficult – would lessen these issues and thereby keep mobs from forming and peoples’ reputations from being destroyed so easily. It seems that Solove will present some solutions to these problems in the next section.

Kara Williams
Response to Question 1

I disagree with the question posted, “do you think the internet vigilantism and exploitation of the image is justified due to long-held societal standards of shaming perpetrators?” I don’t think the “NY Subway Flasher” deserves the exploitation of his picture because shaming is a social standard, no, he deserves it because what he was doing in public is socially unaccepted. I do think shaming has some benefits, such as it can strike some fear into others not involved in the crime; they think twice before they commit the same crime, “I don’t want that to happen to me” or “look what happened to them when they did that.” However, shaming can get out of hand or rather become too harsh, given the examples Solove presents in the chapter of “Laura the Plagiarist.” The Internet brings about a tremendous amount of press. Millions of people have a soapbox to comment on Kushner’s blog about Laura and attack her given the personal information he posted about her. Even Solove states, “Kushner was unable to stuff it back in the bottle. Also, the man who exploited “Cell Phone Stealer” wanted the public shaming to stop once he found out the criminal was a minor. I think people underestimate what the Internet can do. Kushner didn’t expect much to come of his blog—naïve thinking—and did not know how public Laura was going to become even though he set her on a public stage.

So no, I don’t think perpetrators deserve public shaming, especially if you just want them to be punished. Taking the criminal the authorities is how you can rightfully punish him/her. I just think that once you’ve received a bad name on the Internet and then become nationally recognized for it, people hardly give you a second chance in life. They define you as what they read of you or what picture they saw of you and then somehow you are viewed in the same light as a murder of the 1rd degree. I’m not pointing fingers, I catch myself doing when I hear about murders on the news, so all I’m saying is, given Solove’s examples, public shaming can become unexpectedly too harsh, and I would like someone to show some mercy and give me a second chance, regardless of the situation.

Nichole U*
Response to Question 2

I know this wasn’t one of the questions, but I believe the outcome is that you can’t stop ordinary citizens from acting as cybercops. In the process of “cybercop-ing,” people don’t purposely regulate cyber behavior with the intent to be a cybercop; I believe it’s more of a closer-to-home, selfish reason why their actions end up regulating behavior. They get online with the intention to break their boredom, research something, or just plain find something to entertain them or laugh at. If they find something worthy, they spread it to their friends in order to make them smile as well, or make them feel better about their own lives. It is our societal norms that we gain in our daily physical lives that make us laugh, condone, or condemn certain behaviors online, so the internet ends up being more of an extension of real life than a completely separate entity. However, to answer your original question, I believe it is indeed appropriate for ordinary citizens to use the internet in this way, if for nothing else than for the fact that you just can’t avoid it. Every person has an equal opportunity to act and react to each other, and in that way it is as fair as it will ever be.

For the second question, I believe that lawmakers and law enforcers should definitely have a hand in aiding regulation, at least to some extent as to protect individuals and the collective whole. For example, scams online such as phishing need to be put to a stop because any information obtained online is just as real and deadly as if the perpetrator obtained it from them in person. When phishing first became a problem, I don’t believe it was against the law because there were no laws regulating cyberspace. But because of societal norms of cheating and identity, the law eventually stepped in and tried to help regulate such occurrences. Laws are generally behind the times, but these laws are generally set because of societal norms in the first place. If the law was not able to help regulate norm-breakers online, then the collective group of online users would likely lack the funding and the organization to protect individuals themselves. However, I can see the flipside of the argument, where law enforcers should stay out of it because regulating norm-breakers is not the same as regulating law-breakers. I still believe that enforcers should step in when needed, but where the line is drawn is a matter that should be handled issue by issue.

Kaitlin Cannavo
Question 3

The internet has provided society with a new sense of control in regards to managing the lives of each other. Much like gossip, if a person wishes to get revenge on an individual, it seems common now to exploit some sort of virtual retribution. On numerous occasions this act of social shaming has hit the mass media, ranging from political elections to “dog poop girl,” and has gone so far as to destroy the life of these targeted individuals. At this point we must ask ourselves, “Is this a civil and tolerable form of punishment and do all of these individuals actually deserve to be punished?”

I agree that when a person defies such social norms as to disrupt the lives of others, there are inevitably, and justly so, some retributions. But the torment society expends upon these victims has gotten to the point where it is completely out of control. People feign for any means of “gossip,” which is exactly what this act of social shaming has become. Now the internet places this act on a grander, irreversible scale that too often devastates an individual’s private life.

I believe the internet has already compensated a great deal of privacy and now the merge of private life and virtual identity seems to be rapidly becoming ever more commonplace. At one time the internet was more of a community where you could take on identity other than your own, which caused much worry and speculation online. Now, as it is becoming ever more difficult to detach yourself on the internet from your physical self with the increasing use of picture and video, there is no distinction between private and public self. Through the act of shaming, these shamed individual’s now hold a reputation based online. Is this an accurate representation of this individual? Most likely not, but society seems to be placing a new standard on online reputation. Virtual identity is more commonly shaping physical reputation rather than the other way around. This shift in representation, I think, produces more inaccurate and deceiving perceptions of people and allows for these identities to be exploited much more easily in ways such as this public shaming that they are undeserving of.

Taylor Bryan
Question 1

While public shaming has existed for centuries in a variety of forms, the Internet certainly presents a forum from which one can be shamed perpetually for the rest of their lives. Cases such as "the subway flasher," do seem to hold merit as the perpetrator would have otherwise gone unpunished but this certainly is not the case for all scenarios. Quite frankly people make mistakes that they often regret and take steps to change in order to live a better life, have a better reputation, etc. But with the Internet, once something is posted it never disappears, creating a situation in which one cannot live down their transgressions despite any efforts to do so and this presents a problem.

For deeds as disgusting as flashing on a Subway I cannot find a reason why shaming would be inappropriate. The person exposed himself in public in the first place and should have been aware that society would not tolerate his behavior and consequences would exist, however, the line must be drawn somewhere. In situations such as the cell phone theif or the apple store girl, these people were publically shamed on the internet by people who did not ask all the questions required to determine guilt. That being said the justice system exists to answer these questions and deliver appropriate consequences. It cannot be considered fair for anyone to shame a person as vendettas do exist and an angry internet user can ruin the life of someone for a transgression he or she committed.

I don't think shaming should take place in most situations but there is little that can be done to stop it. In cases of norm violations where actual laws are not violated I feel people should give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt unless a situation is as clear cut and wrong as flashing someone on a subway. While shaming will undoubtedly continue, people need to realize the damage they may be doing to someone and understand that on the internet a published transgression is permanent.

Rachel Burch
Question 1

There will always be shaming. We as a human race always seek to make someone at fault, especially for his or her own disgraceful actions. And because of the Internet, shaming has become easier, faster, and stays for longer, maybe even life. Somewhat fortunately, people that may have never been prosecuted for the crimes they committed are now being charged. The levels of crime are quite varying from a simple petty theft to letting your dog defecate on a public transportation system. I must say that part of the Internet vigilantism is agreeable. People can be shamed by the public for the stupid acts they commit, as well as getting the attention of law enforcement, when usually that would not have happened.

I think it’s hard to say whether someone deserves the public shaming for something they have done. Every case is different, and many circumstances are involved. Was the person honestly apologetic for what he did? I think that sometimes those who commit repulsive acts, like the NYC subway flasher, deserve whatever public shaming they receive. However, I think people are much more cruel with shame than in previous generations, as well as it being the “easy way out.” You never have to show your face while shaming someone. It’s all “anonymous” and you can feel comfortable saying whatever you want. I think if Internet vigilantism is kept to a minimal, with regulators that stay online looking for problems, than it may be a good thing. The other problem I have with Internet shaming being an okay thing is the idea of time. Once posted, or if found on Google, information remains on the Internet for a long time. People have no choice in clearing the information ultimately. And honestly, people do stupid shit when they’re young. There is no option for moving on after a crime has been committed.

In America we pride ourselves on doing your time, rehabilitating, and then being able to enter back into the world as a free man. Having the Internet as a place of punishment and shame does not allow for this. Certain people, thanks to the millions of blogs set up to shame these individuals, will not be able to move on. They are never even given the opportunity.

Megan Quigley
Question 3

While Internet shaming does provide some regulation on social norms and etiquette, it does have downfalls, including morally. Personally, I have never heard of website like Holla Back NYC, the Shitty Tipper Database, and Don’t Date Him Girl. Although these websites obviously reach thousands of people, I don’t think their shaming is very productive and actually making a difference. If people don’t even know their name is out there on Shitty Tipper Database with a nasty complaint about them, the offenders are not going to turn around and become better tippers. As discussed on page 101, the “How’s My Driving?” program has actually improved road safety because the program has strict controls, investigating complaints and giving their drivers feedback, training, and instruction. Internet shaming websites, which are also complaint based like the “How’s My Driving?” program that has had successful results, often fail to turn over any real changes and can sometimes just over-dramatize a situation.

Accusing offenders on these websites and giving out their identity can be seen by some as entertaining and funny or degrading and life-impacting by others. While giving the WWW the person’s identity is the driving factor behind the shaming, it can be unfair if the perpetrator doesn’t have the chance to defend himself. What if he was having a bad day and the waitress was actually a horrible server? There are always two sides to every story and unless the offender is without-a-doubt completely in the wrong, giving away his name, picture, and location is an evasion of privacy. I’m all for tipping well, and I consider myself a good tipper, but one should not be treated as a registered sex offender (with their name, picture, and address online) just for leaving a bad tip or riding in the HOV lane.

Jenny Milne
Question 2

Do you think it's appropriate and dutiful for ordinary citizens to act as cybercops and regulate normbreakers? Should lawmakers and law enforcers have a hand in aiding regulation?

I think in this class, ideals are dealt with very often, especially with we talk about the internet, and the people that developed it. I think this is one of the things that bothered me the most is that the developers didn't consider what negative aspects could come from this creation. This is not saying that I dont approve of what they created, I think just that if they had been realists while developing the internet, then a lot of these problems wouldn't have occurred.

So, I think there is a delicate balance to who should police the web. There should be a specific group of trained personel that are in charge of monitering the web. I am aware that it is impossible to completely moniter the web and everything thats on it, but I think that what can be kept from being dangerous should be.

The issue with ordinary citizens policing the internet, is the same issue with them policing the streets. They aren't trained, nor do they have the means necessary to do the job. So, I think ideally, there would be a number to call to report shady acts that have occurred on the internet, but other than that they shouldn't be able to do anything else. I think if anyone could police anyone, you would run into lawsuits about free speech. Or extreme religious factions hating on Harry Potter Websites. So, to keep that from happening, specific rules should be set up as to what endangers others, and the professionals should be ones that handle it.

Amanda Thomas
Question # 5

Shame is often effective as an enforcer of social norms; however, it is not something to be used lightly. Only the fear of impending shame is helpful in preventing individuals from violating norms; all rules must, of course, be backed with consequences in order to sustain respect. Rules are intended to protect and improve society—the offender included. Fear of shame could work to prevent the offender from mending their ways and improving their future actions. Solove points out that, “Shame has a way of alienating people, inhibiting their ability to rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into the community … People alienated from society often have little to lose and a lot of bitterness—a recipe for their continuing to engage in wrongdoing.” (Page 95). Permanently shaming an individual seems to imply that an offender is beyond changing, and in many cases it renders the destroyed reputation irreparable.

Solove suggests that temporary shaming is much less problematic than permanent shaming. Considering that shame affects two areas—the individual’s view of his or herself and society’s view of the individual—can shame be regulated at temporary or permanent? Can memories be erased? The internet presents a new facet, in that its memory cannot be erased. Solove cites several examples of internet users taking shaming into their own hands. These instances cannot be erased. I strongly dislike the concept of internet sites dedicated to shaming social norm offenders. They seem characterized by bitterness, and they ruin the reputations of a few, while having little to no affect on the overall dilemma.

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