"A Bid For the Attention of Strangers": Self-Esteem Through Shaming

If you get a chance go read Jon Ronson's NYT article (H/T Daniel Jonce Evans) "How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life." I was particularly struck by some of the final lines of the article regarding the source of social media shaming:

"Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval...a bid for the attention of strangers."

Our self-concept is rooted in a desire for approval, an approval we often get by shaming the right people with the right people. In shaming others we stand with the crowd and, thus, gain the approval of the crowd.

As I've written about before, because self-esteem is inherently an act of social evaluation we achieve our sense of self-worth through acts of violence. We build up our self-worth by tearing down the worth of others.

This is one of the things I've learned from writers like James Alison and Rene Girard, how rivalry is intimately associated with our self-concept. Our sense of self-worth is created and supported by some contrast and opposition to others, generally a moral contrast. I feel good about myself because I am better than others. More virtuous. More righteous. More authentic. More humane. Less hoodwinked. More tolerant. More insightful. More kind. More something.

From sunrise to sunset every thought I have about myself is implicated in acts of comparison, judgement, and evaluation of others, allowing me to create a sense of self via contrast/opposition with others and then filling that self with feelings of significance and worthiness. 

And the toxicity of social media is that it harnesses and fuels these tendencies to shame others in a bid for the attention and approval of strangers.

Self-esteem is a violent flame waiting to burn others. Social media is the accelerant, an incendiary device where shame is thrown like a bomb at the right people and with the right people.

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5 thoughts on “"A Bid For the Attention of Strangers": Self-Esteem Through Shaming”

  1. Too true - and also cause for some head-scratching when evaluating the broad popularity of this blog of yours, Dr. Beck. Because most popular blogs - even most ostensibly "Christian" ones - define themselves in opposition to the Other, and it becomes obvious from their comment sections that readers are highly invested in the blog because of the way it enhances their esteem-bolstering Otherness.

    So how does a blog succeed that seems at every turn to say, "But what about humility?" "What about gentleness?" "What about being kind?"

    Perhaps there is room in social media (of which this is a slower-paced form) for those who would use it to attempt to create a small backwater of refuge from all the other nonsense. Or, I don't know, maybe we all just dig your cool overalls.

  2. Now here’s a creative strategy for “Shaming” that might be worth revisiting -

    Know Your Place… Medieval Shame Masks | CVLT Nation

  3. ...and then there were those of us who knew the shame before we ever found a blog; those of us who once lobbed grenades into the camps of others, and wish now we could pull the back; even lay on them ourselves. We remember those who taught us well how to throw them; we remember with much pain because we loved them so, still do. So, do we pretend they never existed? How do we remove those words, those pictures from our minds, even as many of them keep fire bombing those who make them uncomfortable, those little ones, those beautiful ones, whom they angrily accuse of defiling and stealing their country, their church?

    Some of us have much confessing to do; not to keep washing away the sin, but to say, "I've been there; its still there".

  4. Social media has become another tool to by which we can harm or heal others. I read this article the other day and it struck me that it's not much different than face-to-face bully interactions in its motivation, though its results are much more far reaching. I had a run in with a woman in the PTA who felt it appropriate to publicly shame me. I came to the realization that her actions were about HER and not about ME. Had the problem been with ME, she would've handled the issue differently (not attempting to shame me, but instead to help me with what she perceived the issue to be). Social media is the same way--just another tool in which to accomplish one's goal of attention and social approval--a tool that can be used in the interest of self that harms others in the process.

    On the flipside social media has been used to call attention and bring justice for others who have been oppressed. I think it's possible to bring sin to light without shaming per se. It's a fine line, standing up for others who are being oppressed and standing against the oppressors without shaming. Admittedly there are times when that line is blurry.

  5. Social media also creates a strong temptation to put whatever random thoughts you have in your mind into a completely public arena. Twitter is the worst medium for this, as 140 characters is hardly enough to achieve things like nuance and intelligence. Twitter is a competition to come up with the most memorably brief joke or rejoinder. It's no small wonder that half the controversies that seem to spring up around celebrities come from their stupid personal Twitter accounts. As a program, it has a lot of practical uses, but I avoid it like the plague because I know my own tendency to shoot my mouth off without thinking.

    As for the shaming component of social media, *shudder.* I am so against the public "calling out" that happens online, especially of people who are NOT major political or economic figures. It's one thing to decry a pundit or a politician for saying reprehensible things, it's another altogether to reblog and publicly scold an ordinary person (I know social media blurs that distinction, but a Twitter account with a hundred followers does not a celebrity make). So much of this is done to score a kind of victory points - likes, upvotes, retweets - rather than actually resolve a problem. It's not just the self-righteousness, or the confrontational stance that can make the target shut down rather than listen, it's that sometimes, tactically, the best call is to ignore them if you think they won't understand or to deal with it privately if you think they will.

    I mean, shaming can be tremendously effective at changing human behavior, but usually only if the person is a genuinely good-intentioned individual, and are those the kind of people you want to be shaming? I saw enough of this done in schools in Japan, to very young children, that it makes me sick at this point. I won't be involved in it. It brings out the worst in me, and it doesn't help the person who's in error. In the end, as you point out here, we have to ask: why are we doing this? To make ourselves feel superior or to actually educate someone?

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