On privacy and shaming racists

What are the ethical issues involved in cyber shaming racists?
How is this related to concerns about privacy?
In the end do you think it’s morally permissible. Why/why not?

Write a response arguing for your point of view. Max 400 words.

Due Wed, Jan 21 by noon. You can leave your response here as a comment or in the OWL forum.


16 thoughts on “On privacy and shaming racists

  1. Nathan Fabiano says:

    Methods of denunciation like shaming are not something that is new to us. However, a new form of denunciation called ‘cyber-shaming’ has risen alongside the Internet. Cyber-shaming involves the leaking of one’s private information to the public (the public being the Internet). The Internet, however, can contain private information that goes deep into all aspects of one’s life. Your account on an online shopping website may contain the specifics of where you live, your password history might provide one with access to your bank account, and your social media accounts may state who you are related to. Thus where it might have been near impossible to obtain certain private information about you before (like your banking information), the Internet makes this all easier, as it removes the physical aspect of collecting information. As this is so, the issue of “where do we draw the line when determining how much private information is morally justifiable leak in cyber-shaming” arises. Is it ok to release information that violates the privacy of parties who were not directly involved in the racist’s actions (ie. friends and family), or ought we limit the cyber-shaming to the only the racist and leave acquaintances out of it? Is the leaking of the racists personal banking information too much of a privacy violation, or is it justifiable due to their actions? Is it ok to leak the private information of youth, even though there are laws that set out to protect the identities of youth from the press? Or, on the other hand, is it not morally acceptable to leak one’s private information at all in acts of cyber-shaming?

    • Nathan Fabiano says:

      I am of the belief that cyber-shaming for racists is morally permissible, but only to a certain extent. As stated earlier, certain acts of cyber-shaming can not only have consequences for the racist, but their friends and family as well. When acts of cyber-shaming, like the leaking of ones address, can harm passive acquaintances of the racist, then cyber-shaming isn’t morally permissible. However, when acts of cyber-shaming bring about consequences for only the racist, then they are morally permissible. As the Internet is a public sphere of communication, one should not expect to free from the denunciation that they would receive from being racist in other public spheres like a street corner. However, when cyber-shaming involves methods of denunciation that one would not receive in real life (ie. leaking banking info), then it is not morally permissible.

  2. Marc Stahl says:

    Young racists not that different from Charlie Hebdo?

    Anonymity is essential to freedom of speech. Without anonymity, those who wish to express themselves may fear retaliation and decide not to speak at all.

    Newspapers have demonstrated time and time again that without providing anonymity to their sources, they would have never been able to publish controversial stories. The internet is really a modern day newspaper, where sources and publishers are one and the same.

    The intentions of the Jezebel may have been noble, but they were misguided. The implied threat of having the young boys’ identities and addresses published may be a deterrent to people posting racist comments, but it is also a deterrent to those wishing to publish any controversial comment. The Jezebel’s actions will silent not only the racists, but perhaps those taking on big business, the government, the mafia, etc.

    Racist comments, like most naïve or uninformed comments, are the result of a lack of education. They cannot be legislated away, and they cannot be bullied (or threatened) away. The only solution is education for those posting, and those reading. If the masses are well educated then naïve or racist comments will be simply ignored and laughed at.

    The geopolitical events of the last week have underscored the risks associated with bullies enforcing their view of what is acceptable to publish. The Jezebel actions are not very different – they may not have pulled a trigger, put they certainly put a bulls eye on the foreheads of the young boys. Neither is acceptable.

    If the staff at Charlie Hebdo could have remained anonymous, they would probably be alive today. This proves how essential anonymity is to freedom of speech. I don’t agree with publishing the image of Mohammed if it offends some, but I respect Charlie Hebdo’s right to do so. I also don’t agree with the racist comments of the young high school students, but I respect their right to voice their opinions.

  3. Philip Thingbø Mlonyeni says:

    First of all I think one should make a distinction between shaming a person for their views on the one hand, and exposing a person’s views on the other. Obviously they are not clearly distinct, and there will be borderline cases, but the ability for the public to know a person’s views when it is a person with authority is, arguably, a good thing. If a politician does not disclose their racist views, but post their racist views in an online forum, the revealing of such posts by a newspaper or private person is important for constituents in an election, because such views will have effects in the making and execution of laws. This is different from shaming a person’s of no relevant authority, where the shaming is done merely for the shaming itself, to make the person look like a fool.

    The problem is keeping these two separate and where the issue of privacy enters. The right to privacy is supposed, among other things, to ensure that as a private citizen, the disclosing of information to others does not mean disclosing information to the public and that when one addresses the public, sensitive information is not to be disclosed with it. What is sensitive information will vary from one context to the other, but for each context there are general guidelines for which information is to be disclosed.

    Regarding privacy I think there are two main problems, it’s a problem with how the internet works and how its lack of regulation and internal justice affects people, meaning, among other things, that disclosing information on the internet in many cases is not as private as one may want to think. The other is a problem of culture.

    The problem with culture is, I think, mainly one concerning our passion for voyeurism. We simply like to know what other people think and feel about issues, even though that information is not relevant for our daily dealings. I think the Jezebel case would have had more merit if the information was not disclosed online, but was simply reported to school officials and no-one else. The fact that they felt that other people needed to see it is indicative of a cultural ideal which has nothing to do with political or social ideals, but merely the exposing of individuals (the fact that they were teens make this even worse).

    The problem with the internet is that if your facebook posts, tweets, etc. are regarded as speech, they are not to be exempt from retaliation in the form of someone else’s speech. If posts online are considered public statements there is no law that can stop someone from doing public shaming, because it may be argued that as public speech there is a value in exposing it for other members of society.

    So, is ‘shaming’ of racists permissible? Yes. But there is a burden of proof on the one doing the shaming, and that burden is whether the public has any interest in the information. This burden ought to be much heavier than it is regarded (if it is regarded at all) by individuals doing such shaming, and should be enforced both culturally and by law.

    I haven’t touched on issues of anonymity and it may be that as culture and law become more adapted to the internet, the disclosing of personal information in such shaming stunts will have more discretion, but there is no way to know, and if I were a racist I would abstain from writing blatantly racist posts online altogether.

  4. Philip Thingbø Mlonyeni says:

    My previous post was too long so I’ll write a new one.

    What are the ethical issues involved in cyber-shaming racists?
    What I think is the main issue is the distinction between what is legitimately exposing someone’s views for the benefit of the public on the one hand, and merely shaming on the other. Clearly there are legitimate reasons for exposing another person’s statements, as in the case of a politician who has made racist remarks online, but not disclosed those views in public. Joe on the other hand, who makes racist remarks in an online forum with no intent of it being public speech, should, under the protection of privacy, not have his views displayed all over the internet. The problem leading to this issue is in my opinion the fact that we have no clear idea of whether statements made online are public speech or not. As soon as someone links to your tweet that was intended for a few followers only, it has become (more) public than you intended, although there were no mechanism stopping this from happening and you should have known that it could have happened.

    The blurring of the line between what is public and private has ethical consequences that neither law nor culture is able to deal with as of yet, and we need a better idea of what it means to make a public statement, both as an agent making the statement, but also as a reader who happen to stumble upon another person’s statements online.

    In the end do you think it’s morally permissible. Why/why not?

    Yes. But there is a burden of proof on the one doing the shaming, and that burden is whether the public has any interest in the information. This burden ought to be much heavier than it is regarded (if it is regarded at all) by individuals doing such shaming, and should be enforced both culturally and by law. The Jezebel case is in my opinion an example of poor judgement by the Jezebel staff, and one wherein the information should have been kept between Jezebel and the schools. There are few cases where the shaming of individuals is permissible, and as a private person one should think more than twice before one chooses to expose another person’s online statements to larger segments of the public.

  5. Laura Pond says:

    The ethical issues involved in cyber shaming racists are the threats made to the targeted individuals and effects that the public nature of cyber shaming has on their non-digital lives. This is a privacy concern because although racist posts are inherently made public by the act of publishing them online (via Instagram or Twitter, for example), the poster does not typically include personal information in the post (other than their name/online username). In other words, the poster deliberately avoids publishing information that has the potential to harm them, both online and otherwise. The ethical concern is whether or not publishing the private information of racists online (credit card number, home address, place of employment, phone number, school, etc.) and the real effects of the ensuing shame and harassment in their lives are justifiable. I think it is justifiable, but I also think that the aim should be to change their prejudice and alter their views instead of totally ruining their lives. If the attempt to change a person’s prejudice through constructive dialogue online is unsuccessful (which is often the case), then I think some degree of cyber shaming is justifiable. The public nature of the posts does not itself make sharing the poster’s private information acceptable, but depending on the degree of prejudice some people are less likely to take responsibility for their views. For example, I think it is more acceptable to cyber shame an influential public figure for their racist online practices than it is a high school student. This is not to excuse the racist views of younger people, but I think it is more likely to ensure the future anti-racist attitudes of a high school student if their racism is confronted in a more private manner. Otherwise, the life-long effects of cyber shaming on young racist people will cause them to resent people of colour even more. It is a vicious cycle, because they will blame people of colour for their misfortunes instead of their own racist practices online. Also, the degree of pleasure that some well-intentioned online activists take in the downfall of racist people is disturbing. What should be applauded is a successful shift in a person’s views from racism to anti-racism, not a job loss or a divorce. That being said, it might well be that cyber shaming is necessary to enact this shift in opinion for some particularly stubborn people.

  6. Madeline Dewson says:

    Public online shaming has recently become a mainstream trend on the Internet. It is often appalling how often you can stumble upon a completely idiotic comment online. On Facebook teens are taking it upon themselves to expose those who they feel have done or said something unethical. The website Jezebel exposed very personal details about a series of racist teens. However much theses teens might of deserved consequences for their actions, releasing private information could cause more harm while trying to hold the teens accountable while simultaneously putting them at risk. Who are we to take on the role of god-like authority to punish other people? Just because they are minors does not mean they should not be held responsible for their actions, however publicly shaming these individuals will not teach them to censor their words. The teen will most likely behave the same way but under more anonymous circumstances, and with closed profiles. Legal literacy should be taught in schools so that they can be more aware of the effects of their actions and when they begin to cross a line, as not all comments are black and white. I do not think online public shaming is morally permissible, however good it may feel to claim revenge on these naïve individuals. I say this because if we condone the shaming of racists, does this mean we can also shame promiscuous women as seen on Facebook with the act of “slut shaming”. Teens justify the act of “slut shaming” peers out of jealousy or boredom, not thinking about the tremendous effect it can have on themselves and the individual. There have been many teen suicides as a result of this relentless bullying as a result a mistake. Bullying a bully will not solve the issue; we need to create a system that will provide punishment for racists that is in proportion to their crime.

  7. Ruizhe Zhang says:

    There are several ethical issues involving cyber shaming racists where legal matter is being taken into consideration. As the digital realm blends well with our daily lives, the line between reality and virtual world is getting closer than ever. Not too long ago, the virtual identity of a person or an act committed online was believed to have no ill effects. However, the recent Canadian law has made online torts actionable; specifically the tort of defamation. The first prominent ethical issue surfaced from cyber shaming is privacy matters. When do we consider online behavior as public or private, we might argue that online racists are in the open public eye and people can criticize freely. However, just because someone is posting online that does not automatically force them giving up their privacy, everyone has the right of privacy.

    The other ethical concern regarding cyber shaming is the loss of freedom of speech. We are living in the era of constant being monitored and government/service providers managing of online illegal and hateful contents. It is always good to engage in prosocial behaviors, but the tradeoff is the potential loss of freedom of speech. Many argue that the best response to hateful message is not penalize but offer more insights. Different countries around the world have different levels of tolerance of hate messages, thus the line between hate and free speech is a thin one. Free message in one country, a type of literacy device could be viewed as illegal in another country.

    All in all, taking on the consequentialist’s point of view, the result of one’s conduct should be the moral judgment of right or wrong. Therefore, if the result of cyber shaming or organizing hateful message directed toward a person caused that person great harm, then it would be morally wrong and the victim should be able to seek remedy.

  8. Ellie Palikko says:

    From what I can tell there are two different opposing problems with this issue. The first is that of privacy. Do we respect the privacy of the people posting racists comments, and not investigate them with the intentions of contacting their place of work? And the second is obviously that of hate speech. Yes, you are allowed to have an opinion, and the internet often seems like the perfect outlet to voice your opinion, solely because of the sheer volume of people that your message can reach and the perceived anonymity, BUT should we allow these people to propagate hate speech unchecked?

    It is clear that these people do not have the sense to realize that what is said on the internet is there for everyone to see, including future employers, family members, and so on. Canada does have laws on hate speech, but as the internet is admittedly such a difficult platform to govern, I think that having a group on Tumblr dedicated to enforcing a moral code is a good idea.

    I do not believe that the privacy of the victim is being breached, because from what I can tell from the articles, information about their workplace was attained through perfectly legal channels – in the article by Fruzsina Eördögh it is explained that the tumblr administrators use publicly available information. These people publicly share this information, they were the ones who added their place of work and personal information onto their online profiles.

    Concerns about privacy take on an entirely different form on the internet, as it is inherently such an open place. Anything written or posted on the internet is there for everyone to see, and I feel that it is the duty of the internet user to understand that. It is because of this, that I think it is morally permissible to cyber shame racists. If a racist were to walk into a crowded place with a megaphone and spew racist slurs there would be consequences. Why should posting racists comments on public forums be any different?

  9. Konrad Pfundner says:

    A lot of people act different depending on the environment they are in such as the internet. Depending where you are in the internet it can be a very hostile or joking environment so a lot of people will contribute to it by posting jokes or saying things they would never say in real life, but in this environment everyone else is doing it so why not. This post could get shared to other people who are not used to this behaviour and find it very offensive. Some thoughts might be: did the poster mean it as a joke or comment, should you ignore it, write a reply to it or maybe even take it personally. In real life this post could count as harassment but online what is it, who punishes these people and what punishment should they receive? It appears people who post on “Racists Getting Fired” or “Hello There, Racists!” take all this upon their selves to decide, is this fair? From here other people join in on digging up this person’s personal information and post it on these public pages viewed by thousands of people, once again people take it upon themselves to do whatever they deem necessary against this post. If they think posting one’s personal info for everyone to see is right, what makes posting something racist wrong? Majority of the time kids just like to post funny jokes online and the funniest of these jokes can sometimes be very racist, but majority of the time this is just a joke and rarely is actually hate against other races. Even then it will be ignored by the majority, laughed at by others and other who are actually offended can just post a hate comment in return. I don’t understand why this has gone from a couple of angry people replying to the post to instead digging deeper and making this a huge deal and exposing the poster’s public profile all over the internet. In my opinion this is going way too far, nobody takes majority of insulting things online seriously. Very often the internet is a place for people to let out their hate, I find this natural and I don’t think big deals should be made of this, everyone gets angry once in a while. why must they get shamed publicly all over the internet or even lose their jobs?

  10. Jen McKibbon says:

    There are three major ethical issues involved with cyber shaming racists. Firstly we must ask if it is morally right to shame racists in any way not just in the cyber context. We must know if we have the rights to comment and shame these people for what they are saying. Secondly, we must make a distinction between what is considered private versus public. What we need to know is when should our private thoughts become public and what is the implication of this. We need to think about if in the realm of the internet our words are to be considered a private or public context. This leads to the final ethical issue, is what we put on the internet make us morally responsible for it. We must know if we have a moral responsibility for our actions on the internet outside of the context of it.
    These ethical issues are related to concerns about privacy because we are lead to ask if we have the right to cyber shame racists as the tumbler account does. It may be considered that we are we infringing upon the persons privacy and their thoughts by placing their racist remarks where everyone can see them. Secondly the fact that the people who are putting the racists up on the tumbler account must find out as much information as they can so that they can not only cyber shame but effect their lives, as seen in the loss of the racists job or school suspensions depending on the age of the offender, moves beyond preventing racism and infringes upon their privacy.
    In the end I think that it is very hard to answer if it these actions are morally permissible without answering the above raised questions. On one hand, yes we can say it is morally permissible in the sense that if you post something online you are agreeing for it to become public knowledge. However, it is not morally permissible since you are doing no better than the racist in shaming them. Many racists will not actually change their views and all you are doing is creating a slippery slope for more progressive actions which may be taken out upon the racist.

  11. Megan Craig says:

    It is generally agreed upon that the “rules and sensibilities of the rest of our lives should largely apply online as well” (Buchanan, 2012). Based on this concept, it would be expected that things ethically immoral offline would also be wrong online, although they may be more common due to the anonymity and accessibility for the actions online. In discussing racists, offline acts of hate or discrimination would be frowned upon and potentially have legal consequences, so it follows that online racist comments are still considered immoral. Similarly, bullying is an equally cruel act whether it is online or offline, and it has garnered a lot of attention in the media, including some cases leading to legal consequences.

    When discussing the cyber shaming of racists, we are melding two immoral acts, since it can go so far as to become bullying of them, but they have also acted immorally. As Matt Buchanan states, “it’s simply a matter of taste” (Buchanan, 2012). I believe this boundary of tastefulness is closely related to privacy online. Since the individuals are using publically-accessible social media sites, which encourage the broadcasting and re-use of content, they are making the decision to invite others to comment on their media. They are using public speech, and by applying public profile settings, there has been no privacy interference. However, when sites not only exhibit a collection of people’s inappropriate posts and their personal details like school and athletics, but also report them to school administration, I feel they have overstepped the boundary. Although the online community has the freedom to access and comment on the posts, they should not be “empowered to be judge, jury and executioner” (Eördögh, 2012). I do believe there should be real-life consequences for their online actions, something teenagers struggle to understand, but I think there are much better ways to produce consequences.

    In general, I think creating an exhibit of the racist posts to educate people on the reality of the Internet, and remind them that moral rules still apply, is morally permissible. Sometimes making an example of a group of people, while it may lack taste, is useful to teach a much larger group which behaviors are acceptable. I think the line or moral permissibility is drawn at the point of bullying or vigilantism; it is not the Internet’s place to discipline someone for their actions.

    Buchanan, M. (2012, November 13). Why social-media shaming is OK. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/mattbuchanan/why-social-media-shaming-is-okay

    Eördögh, F. (2012, November 15). Shaming racists on social media continues with new tumblr. Retrieved from http://readwrite.com/2012/11/15/shaming-racists-on-social-media-continues-with-new-tumblr

  12. Elizabeth Ellis says:

    I think that racism is an ethical issue because racism is something that causes more bad than good.
    However, I think it is not ethical to release these names online because this is another case of bullying and privacy issues. Although it is unethical for someone to be rasict etc it is not ethical to shame them, two wrongs dont make a right sort of answer.
    In the case of the “slut shaming” I believe this is extremely wrong because with bullying like this there have been suicides and depression, mental health issues that come about of this.
    Also, back to the racial issues the ‘Je suis Charlie’ idea came to my mind about how some people agree that they were racist with their cartoons but it is unethical to kill them because of this.
    Groups like Anonymous or WikiLeaks release valuable information for citizens to make personal/political judgements or decisions but I dont believe this is ethical because it involves invasion of privacy, hacking and potential “bullying” behavior.

    • Elizabeth Ellis says:

      What I also found with the last article changed my prospective a bit because when actually reading the tweets that Justine Sacco posted it made me realize something. By putting anything on Twitter, Facebook, on the Internet in general you are making it possible for everyone and anyone to see it forever. I think that with knowing that people should be conscious about what they post online. However, I am still not sure if this is ethical to shame them and cost them their job. This is a form of beating online bullying with online bullying so I would still say this is unethical because it is not actually helping anyone, just getting the person back for what they posted which may not be the most effective way of doing so.

  13. Jordan Tite says:

    Unfortunately, most users of the internet have a difficult time distinguishing, what space on the internet, if any, is public or private. The majority of these racist remarks assuredly come from those who believe they are talking to their innermost group of friends, and is closed off from the rest of the internet at large. These articles prove this is simply not the case. A saying that was taught to me growing up was “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma, you shouldn’t say it at all”. More than ever, this should be applied online as well. Social media websites have a propensity to track all sorts of information, and that is not even including the various add-ons that can be found on almost every web page. Even under an alias, racist and offensive messages can be traced back to the author, but that begs the question: should there be dedicated blogs and sites to track down these verbally abusive miscreants? In a sense, there are some ethical issues associated with these Tumblr accounts, such as privacy, but really there is very little on the internet that is private. I personally would like to know if one of my colleagues was spewing homophobic or racists remarks, and if he/she was saying it in a one-on-one conversation, I would most definitely confront them. How is it any different if the person is making these remarks in what they feel is a private space, but most assuredly is not? Privacy on the internet has been a grey area since its inception, and as such, until there are more laws in place that can clearly define what is meant by “privacy on the internet”, users should treat the entity as a public domain. Now that doesn’t go to say they shouldn’t bank online, or utilize online shopping and such, it merely means that one should watch carefully the kinds of things they post about. One strategy is to think of oneself as a future presidential candidate. If you think that by posting what you are about to post, it could hurt your presidential campaign, you probably shouldn’t do it.

  14. Tim Voth says:

    I was set up by a ex-posting nasty comments on my computer.Had no clue about it.2 years after the fact.it appeared on racistgettingfired.Nothing you can do about it.Guard your computer.Sad.

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