This week a friend of mine posted about her experience on a dating website. In doing so, she posted screenshots of her interactions with an extremely crude individual on Facebook. She is not alone; see the Instagram account, Bye Felipe. After posting the screenshots, one friend called the guy a “Douche.” My friend responded thusly, “Yeah. It’s a pretty common occurrence, and it shouldn’t be. Public shaming it is!”
This interaction sparked two responses for me. Let’s start with the first one. The amount of violence and sexually explicit language directed toward women online is atrocious. Women must be careful about their interactions online because men routinely threaten them with rape, hate f*cking, or just outright physical violence. As the screenshot my friend posted online shows, the guy behaves like a classic abuser and moves from “Please forgive me” to “Speak when spoken to” within a few hours. Of course, this degenerates into vulgar descriptions of his penis, which also seems extraordinarily threatening when capped with “Dumb bitch.” Almost every woman I know on a dating site, reddit, or other forms of social media has been threatened and called a bitch.
Conversely, my gay male friend who is also on an online dating site reports a different experience. He talks about purposefully teasing other members about their profiles. When I asked him about retribution, he was shocked. He said, “Yeah, sometimes they say stuff back, but nobody threatens me. Does that happen to women?” I think his experience highlights how high the stakes are for women online.
However, my second response to my friend’s post is equally problematic. Sharing the experience and showing how women are treated on dating sites is a legitimate way to start a conversation on Facebook. In fact, describing the the experience seems like an overtly feminist move by uncovering systemic oppression. This setup video of men catcalling their mothers shows how effective a little shaming can be.
And yet, when my friend posted the screenshots, she shared his photo, his user name, and his city of residence. In effect, she placed him in a pillory. Now the wider public can share in humiliating him for his crimes. Unlike the real pillory that is tied to a specific location, the pillory of the interwebs is everywhere. Social media has taken public shaming to a global level.
In a perfect world, a man would never send threatening messages to a woman. Nevertheless, we live in this world in which these activities happen all of the time. As we move forward, we may need to think about the effects of public shame. If our goal is to reform these men and change their behavior, I am not sure the Facebook pillory is the best answer.