Expert warns of shaming through social media
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.”