Expert warns of sham­ing through so­cial me­dia

Irish Examiner - - News - Joyce Fe­gan

Af­ter more than a week of di­vi­sive on­line de­bate about rape, Ir­ish so­ci­ety needs to re­flect on its re­la­tion­ship with so­cial me­dia, ac­cord­ing to clin­i­cal psy­chother­a­pist Joanna For­tune.

Ms For­tune, who re­cently de­liv­ered a TEDx talk called So­cial Me­dia — The Ul­ti­mate Shame Game, said that de­spite the pos­i­tives of the in­ter­net, the po­ten­tial for valu­able learn­ing can get lost on­line.

“Ge­orge Hook was wrong and his com­ments caused real dam­age to rape sur­vivors. This should have been picked up by his em­ployer im­me­di­ately. It wasn’t un­til so­cial me­dia mo­bilised and re­acted that spon­sors with­drew and then the em­ployer re­acted.

“In this way, so­cial me­dia can be a very pow­er­ful en­tity, ef­fect­ing a change.

“How­ever, so­cial me­dia is not a place that of­ten in­vites or evokes fresh think­ing or a new per­spec­tive, be­cause it’s a place where po­larised view­points are tightly held and in­deed am­pli­fied by the echo cham­bers we have made for our­selves by fol­low­ing and be­ing fol­lowed by only like-minded peo­ple.”

Ms For­tune said the “echo cham­ber” dy­namic of so­cial me­dia kills off op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop a new un­der­stand­ing of is­sues.

“Any­one who is out­side of our clus­ter is deemed wrong and we screen­grab, tag like­minded fol­low­ers, and share to en­sure ev­ery­one we know re­acts the same way to it as we do. This shuts down op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to learn from each other on­line.

“There are times when peo­ple’s op­pos­ing views are wrong, based on legal prece­dent and an es­tab­lished right and wrong, but as op­posed to say­ing: ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’, you can in­vite a dis­cus­sion. Pub­lic dis­course, as op­posed to be­com­ing en­hanced by so­cial me­dia, has be­come im­paired by it,” said Ms For­tune.

In her TEDx talk, the clin­i­cal psy­chother­a­pist as­serted that peo­ple with a so­cial me­dia ac­count are en­gaged in on­line sham­ing.

“I have so­cial me­dia ac­counts, I in­clude my­self in this, it’s an un­com­fort­able truth,” she said.

Ms For­tune, who works with ado­les­cents, said she came up with the idea af­ter vis­it­ing teenagers for a talk in their school.

“In an ex­er­cise I did as part of a school talk, I gave teenagers four or five sce­nar­ios that they were to deem as so­cially ac­cept­able or so­cially un­ac­cept­able.

“One was be­ing at a party and a friend hooks up with some­one they wouldn’t be with if they were sober.

“They are filmed and the footage is up­loaded on­line and shared widely. Was the act of film­ing and up­load­ing so­cially ac­cept­able? And 50% said it was.”

They be­lieved the girl was re­spon­si­ble for be­ing filmed and the footage cir­cu­lated and they there­fore felt “jus­ti­fied” in shar­ing it so as to “teach her a les­son”.

“That’s where the shame comes in,” she added.

“It comes down to how nor­malised on­line sham­ing is in their lives.”

“We need to get bet­ter at read­ing and re­flect­ing and for­mu­lat­ing our own thought process.”

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