The problem with viral shaming

Viral shaming is an increasingly popular way to bully and harass people on the internet

Written by spunout


To shame someone is to publicly ridicule a real or perceived aspect of their behaviour, personality, or appearance, that you consider to be wrong or abnormal. Viral shaming is when this ridicule takes place on the internet and social media, where many people may participate in it. It can be extremely harmful to those subjected to it, and is a form of cyber-bullying.

How does viral shaming happen?

Viral shaming can happen in many situations. For example, a young person at a party or a concert may have behaved in a way that is considered shameful, embarrassing or inappropriate. A friend or onlooker may have captured pictures or videos of this and uploaded them to Facebook or Twitter to make fun of this person. These images or videos then may become widely shared, often accompanied by cruel and unkind comments that are intended to mock or insult the person in the photos or videos. This is viral shaming.

Does this sound familiar? It’s an increasingly common phenomenon, and one that can have pretty devastating consequences. Recently, viral shaming is increasingly used specifically to condemn sexual behaviour that is considered indecent or deviant. 

This kind of harassment is really not ok. When we don’t know the person in the photo, sometimes it can be easy to say cruel things about them. Because we have no experience of this person in real life, they may seem less real or human. However, it’s really important to recognise that these are real people, and your actions can have very real impacts on their happiness and safety, even if those actions are simply leaving a comment on Facebook.

Even if you don’t know the person, viral shaming is a type of online bullying and harassment. If the image or video contains sexual content, then it is a form of sexual harassment.

What can I do about viral shaming?

  • Do not under any circumstances take pictures or videos of someone doing something “embarrassing” and certainly do not upload them to the internet without their consent. You may not realise how damaging your actions could be.
  • If you see a viral photo or video that is is trying to mock or make fun of someone, do not share it under any circumstances. Don’t even comment on it. If people don’t allow these photos to spread, then they will die out.
  • Recognise the impact that our actions online have on others. Just because it’s taking place on a screen doesn’t make it any less hurtful than saying it to the person’s face in real life. Often, people who experience online harassment can feel like there is no escape from being attacked.
  • Educate yourself on terms and behaviours that might be hurtful to others, especially women and minority groups. You might not even realise that your behaviour is hurtful and damaging.
  • Stick up for your peers, even if you don’t know them. Everyone has a responsibility to make the internet a more safe and welcoming place. Show respect and solidarity for people going through tough times.

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