Danger of Shaming Online?

Adria RichardsConsultant Adria Richards was at PyCon this year, a convention for Python programming language enthusiasts, when she heard some male attendees behind her talking about “dongles” and “forking”, some rather indelicate puns that made Adria uncomfortable.  Instead of turning around and complaining to the men, or going to convention organizers, she decided to tweet the whole thing.  She sent a picture of the two guys and called their actions “uncool”.  Richards has about 9000 Twitter followers and the story spread like wildfire, prompting PyCon to issue an official apology to her.  One of the men in the picture was recognized by his employer and terminated, but then Richards’ employer decided that her online antics made the company look bad and likewise terminated her.

Some outlets have claimed that this is the outcome of online shaming, an unfortunately widespread tactic in the online world where someone tries to harm others, either professionally or personally, by online comments and actions.  We’ve seen this in the atheist world with attacks against people like Justin Vacula and others, where people are unable to deal with the content of someone else’s speech and therefore tries to hurt them in the real world.

This story isn’t really about the danger of shaming though, it’s about the danger of not being aware that your actions may have unintended consequences.  It doesn’t have to be online, you can say something off the cuff in a restaurant and if the wrong people hear it, it could cost you your job.  Now I’m not siding with the guys she tweeted about and I’m not siding with her, I’m saying that no matter what you intend to happen, that’s not necessarily what will happen and no matter one’s intentions, that’s how things go.  Whether or not Richards’ actions warranted her termination is really up to the reader to decide, but no matter what your opinion, it doesn’t change the outcome.

There’s a problem online though where people take disagreement too far.  It’s one thing to point out a racist or a sexist online, it’s certainly another to publish their personal information and contact their schools or employers to complain about their online behavior.  This isn’t online activism, it’s online revenge against people you’ve never even seen or met, who have never personally wronged you in any way.  While I’ll agree that people have every right to be offended by sexist comments or racist comments, your own personal offense does not give you license to spur an attack on an individual by faceless Internet hordes.

Now personally, do I think Richards was wrong?  Absolutely.  She was eavesdropping on a conversation that didn’t concern her in a busy convention hall.  She then took it upon herself to broadcast a private conversation to a worldwide audience and that broadcast cost one of the men his job.  She was absolutely, completely and totally in the wrong, just as I feel virtually all online shaming of this sort are.  It’s one thing to complain about behavior or use it as an example in a post, it’s another to actively attempt to harm others.  That she also lost her job is not fair compensation to the man she harmed, I hope she at least learned her lesson in this whole mess.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people online with a feminist agenda who are defending what Richards did because she’s a woman and she has a right to get revenge against men.  I wish I could say this isn’t the case because such a position is absurd, but there you go.  Like it or not, your discomfort does not give you license to harm others, social justice doesn’t give you the right to ruin other people’s lives because you’re pushing an agenda.  If we take anything from the case of Adria Richards, it’s that sometimes, sticking your nose into other people’s business where it clearly doesn’t belong can come back to bite you in the ass.

Maybe more of these people deserve to get bit.

11 thoughts on “Danger of Shaming Online?

  1. What really gets me riled up about this topic (not Donglegate specifically but the whole issue of Internet vigilantism) is arrogance in thinking that seeing a few tweets one doesn't like justifies trying to get someone fired. This seems to have become accepted practice by many of the social justice warriors, and I find it baffling. They have somehow come to view this as a justified response to any sort of criticism.
    My recent post Divisive Bloggers at Atheist Conventions

    1. And now they have a blockbot to block dissenters on Twitter. Of course they claim it's all abusers and trolls and it's true that many are, but there are people on there, like Vacula, Thunderfoot, etc. that merely question them and call them out and don't resort to trolling and insults.

      By itself, that is just plain pathetic on their part. But it gets worse, the bot reports the people on the list for spam, so it's not merely these brave social justice warriors sticking their fingers in their ears, it's an attempt to get people kicked off Twitter. These people will stoop to anything to protect their dogma. I just hope Twitter's admins see through this nonsense. Maybe even ban them for abusing the system. How'd that be for karma?

      1. Yeah, I know, I'm on the blockbot because I don't buy into their absurd nonsense and apparently, just doubting the inherent correctness of their position is an insult in and of itself. Trying to get people suspended from Twitter is one of the goals of the "social justice" movement, they get a kick out of it, which is one reason why, back in January, I just stopped giving a crap about any of them or paying any attention to what they do.

    2. They don't care who they hurt, in fact, the more they hurt people that oppose them, the better they feel about themselves, they're such pathetic losers that they have no other way to feel justified in their beliefs. They can't validate their beliefs so they have to hurt anyone who disagrees.

      1. They definitely seek to hurt people. Just yesterday PZ Myers posts a rape accusation toward a prominent atheist. He even admits "I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described" but that won't stop him from posting potentially libelous statements and ruining someone's reputation. Maybe if he gets sued and loses, he'd learn a lesson.

        Of course, well over 90% of the comments support PZ and his preference for mob justice over due process. Anecdotes = undeniable proof. So long as they come from a woman.

        There appears to be no low to which these people will not stoop.

        1. Of course, but PZ is an asshole, he always has been, but now he's an asshole with a cult of personality behind him. I stopped giving a crap about PZ or Pharyngula in January and have not had the slightest interest in visiting his blog since. I just don't care. Those idiots over there are animals, not far above the morons on 4chan. Why pay any attention to them?

    3. and I find it baffling

      Ah, well, that's been studied since the time of Gustave Le Bon. Lot of theories. Personally, I think the theories that encompass the fact that groups tend to take on the authoritarian characteristics of their leaders and the individuals abdicate responsibility for thinking and morality to these leaders are likely to be the correct ones seeing as that's how it seems to work in the real world.

  2. The mature action would have been to ignore their comments, since they were not made to her or anyone else beside themselves. If she felt compelled to make a complaint, she should have done so directly to them at that moment. If she wanted to post a complaint about these sort of comments after the fact she should have done so without mentioning names, quoting only the comments made.

    We don't enjoy a right to not be offended. When we are offended there are mature and immature ways to deal with that. She chose an immature response, and unfortunately both she and another person paid a price for that.
    My recent post Belief versus Knowledge

  3. Too often people use the internet a worldwide platform to spout bullshit. Then when they get called out on this and they have a following of like minded people they do as you described in the post or claim trolling. It is these people that do not understand the need for debate that in my opinion should not be online in the first place.

    As for Adria Richards when this story broke I was horrified by her actions and subsequently when she lost her job I thought it was justice. She had no reason to do what she did as she was eavesdropping on a private conversation. If these guys were saying these things to a large audience then shame them all you want but it was a private conversation.
    My recent post Dear God V

    1. I think there are some things that should legitimately get you fired for posting online, but this? That's absurd and it only happened because there was a public outrage against her and her company. People need to remember that something posted online is there forever and it's rarely ever private.

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