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Cybershaming and when it is OK to react to an offense

SHARE Cybershaming and when it is OK to react to an offense

Internet outrage rages on, trampling victims as diverse as the conservative Christian owners of a small Indiana pizzeria who declared they would not cater a same-sex wedding to the hip, mixed-race South African comedian set to replace Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

Stewart’s designated replacement, Trevor Noah, became center of controversy when people discovered some of the jokes he has made on Twitter were anti-Semitic and some mocked overweight women.

Noah’s tweets, while inappropriate, raised questions about why “politically incorrect” statements create storms of outrage, especially on social media. The comedian defended himself via Twitter on March 31, writing, “To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.”

Public shaming for “unacceptable” views doesn’t come exclusively from the political left or right, and both liberals and conservatives engage in Internet outrage.

Christian blogger Timessa Lynn Leonard wrote for Relevant Magazine, “In a world that encourages patience and acceptance, people sure can be touchy, particularly some Christians. Too many times, we can be like overeager watchdogs, sniffing out any morsel of what we deem as offensive, inappropriate or even ‘heretical.’”

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost become trendy to be offended,” Leonard wrote.

Christians offended by public discourse might remember Paul’s statement about charity, found in Corinthians: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity … is not easily provoked.”

Even within the Christian ideal of charity, Leonard acknowledges that sometimes speaking out about offenses is worthwhile.

“We should get mad about injustices, and there are effective avenues for helping to make things right," she wrote. "But there are also a lot of petty disagreements and personal opinions that aren’t really worth spending time arguing about.”

Leonard recommends six questions to ask before speaking out about a perceived injustice on social media:

Does it really matter?

Is it my fight to take on?

Am I seeking humility?

What don’t I know?

Can I change this?

Should I change this?

“When you come to a place where you have an insight or find an issue which is truly important to you, it is time to present your case,” Leonard wrote. It’s important to disagree with gentleness, she added.

Popular nonfiction writer Jon Ronson’s new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” chronicles the devastating effects of several high-profile cases of cybershaming. The book uses some extreme examples, so it's not for sensitive readers, but Ronson makes the point that it's important to consider the other person's humanity before calling out their "offensive" behavior in a public way.

“Anybody who values ideology over human beings is somebody who’s lost their moral compass.” Ronson told the New York Times,

He quotes one man, who lost his job when a fellow attendee tweeted about offensive jokes he made during a conference, as saying, “I know that I’m just a kind of blank canvas for people to put their ideology onto.”

Ronson told the Times that cybershaming is “not the way humans should behave.”

“We have to rediscover kindness and nuance and empathy, because we’ve lost it,” he said.

mmaxwell@deseretnews.com.