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Is Fear of Social Media Shame Creating Behavioural Control?

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We all have our own reservations about social media shaming. Some take a kind of guilty pleasure out of seeing people's idiotic antics being broadcast across the internet. Some people are disgusted and others become ambassadors for it, casting it further still and commenting on how sick/stupid/funny it is. It's an understandable side-effect of social media, and the increase in video synergy with it, but is it actually worth anything?

Well, in some ways, yes. A recent study by the Demos Think Tank suggested that teen alcohol consumption rates in the UK are starting to fall, and that social media has a lot to do with it. This is partly because such platforms are keeping kids indoors more during their free time, but with mobile platforms fast overtaking browser ones, that's not going to keep up for much longer. What's more interesting is that many of the surveyed subjects say they drink less because they're worried about getting photographed or videoed in the act and ending up online.

A general increase in awareness about the dangers of drinking plays into it as well to some degree, but it's mainly the shaming that's pushing kids away. It strikes me as an 'end justifies means' type of situation, especially considering that by the same token, violent or dangerous behaviour is likely to decrease. In many cases, shaming has become a way to exemplify bad behaviour and even bolster police investigations.

Recently a 16 year old girl in Northfield, Birmingham was videoed verbally and physically abusing two other girls in the street (egged on by her friends) and emptying their bags. The video was viewed millions of times and the perpetrator has since been found and charged. While her being caught will likely discourage similar behaviour in the future from her and others, this kind of thing has an even nastier side.

As the video was circulating, certain reactionary individuals were whirled into an online lynch mob, insulting the girl in every possible way and even in some cases saying they would hurt or kill her if they found her. At one stage the girl's phone number was posted online and people began to take the threats to her directly. I'm well aware that what she was seen to do in the video is abhorrent, but that, to me, is an utterly unacceptable way to respond. What that kind of reaction demonstrates is just how quickly and brutally mob mentality can take over, at which point the reaction becomes at best disproportionate to the offence and at worst, outright wrong.

In a previous article I mentioned an instance of a photo of a man seemingly force-feeding alcohol to a puppy. It was found to be fake, but by then the expected bile-tsunami had already struck and the (admittedly pretty thick) man in the photo had been threatened with death so much he could join a club with Fidel Castro. Sadly there's no real way to police that, nastiness breeds more nastiness and the internet is a hellish land of anonymity where some people feel entitled to commit all their worst thoughts to type. To paraphrase The Social Network, they write their snide bull**** from a dark room because that's what the 'angry' do nowadays.

It's difficult to say whether or not the resultant caution is a worthwhile reward for this ongoing horror-show, and if all the shareable behaviour really did dry up, I'm not certain the online abuse would subside. In fact, it would probably just get worse and it's worth remembering that a lot of the time people who are abused online haven't done anything wrong at all. It's one of those phenomena that hasn't actually been around for long enough to be able to comment on, but I wouldn't be surprised if more statistics about dips in alcohol consumption and public awfulness turn up.


 Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Is Fear of Social Media Shame Creating Behavioural Control? Reviewed by Callum Davies on Friday, July 17, 2015 Rating: 5

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