There was a time when Stoning* was considered a socially acceptable form of punishment for use on people who had broken a society’s law(s), and even today there are a few countries that still practice it. For the most part, however, stoning has been abolished as a form of ‘law enforcement’ and most of us have a hard time even imagining a society in which stoning is acceptable let alone something people willingly take part in. We know it used to be a thing, and are aware it still occurs in some countries today; however, most of us consider it barbaric and a thing of the past or uncivilized cultures.
*Stoning (aka Lapidation) – a form of group punishment in which rocks are thrown at an individual with the intent to kill or at the very least seriously injure. Death by stoning is essentially death by torture, as the intent to make the victim suffer a slow death rather than taking their life quickly and mercilessly. The Islamic Penal code of Iran even goes so far as to specify the size of the stones used should be “not so large as to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor so small that they cannot be called as stones(pebbles)”
But How Far Have we Really Come?
We no longer gather trap ‘guilty’ individuals in the centre of a crowd to pelt them with stones to punish them for their crime(s); however I would argue that stoning hasn’t disappeared it has simply evolved to fit the times we live in today. We don’t stone people to death, we shame them online; and even though there we aren’t inflicting physical damage inflicted the intent of the act is disturbingly similar.
Instead of stones we use words, instead of hiding in a crowd we hide behind our screens/internet, and instead of killing someone’s body we kill their reputation, their credibility and their spirit. Online we are guilty of attacking with just as much viciousness, ruthlessness and cruelty as our ‘uncivilized’ ancestors.
Why is that Though?
The internet is an amazing invention – it has brought about so many incredible/positive changes in our lives – however, it also has the potential to bring out the worst in us because it creates sense of anonymity and power while simultaneously de-sensitizing us to the consequences of our words/actions. A dangerous combination, especially when you take into that these two things – anonymity and desensitization – are ideal conditions to foster a mob mentality; which is exactly what happens when online shaming gets out of control and everyone starts joins in. Hiding behind our keyboards we say things we wouldn’t usually say and act in ways we wouldn’t usually act all the while forgetting that there is a real person on the receiving end of our verbal abuse. Anyone who is active on Social Media, has probably seen some form of online shaming – either on a video, a photo, blog post etc – and has witnessed just how cruel, malicious and unreasonable we can be online.
What does having a strong opinion online, posting a photo that could be found offensive or provocative and making a joke that gets misinterpreted have in common?
None of them are crimes, and yet all of them have the potential to land you at the receiving end of online shaming ranging anywhere from moderate to severe. And who of any of us can honestly say we’re not ‘guilty’ of at least one of the above ‘crimes’? It’s easy to point fingers at someone else and judge their behaviors and forget our own imperfections/ignore all the stupid things we may have done or said. Does that mean we too should to be shamed? No. And neither should anyone else. Even if they did post a ‘slutty’ photo, or make a bigoted comment it’s not our job to punish them for not conforming to our values.
What Can We Do?
Some people would argue that we need to stop being so sensitive/develop thicker skins, and to some extend they are right. We live in a world where things have become so censored and we are so concerned wit being ‘politically correct’ that we get offended by the smallest comment or misuse of a word. However, that is not an excuse to verbally attack people and shame them publicly.
We can’t change human nature; however, we can change how we act as individuals and exercise integrity when putting stuff online. Don’t get drawn into things, remember there is someone on the other end of what we are saying and and when posting/voicing opinions ask ourselves if this is something we would say in person. If it’s not, don’t post it. It’s a small step (very small) and some people would argue it will have no effect whatsoever, but its start and sometimes the biggest of changes can be brought about by the smallest of actions.