walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Fixing someone's online life and further about Ronson's _So You've ..._

Amazing paragraph about the service that Jon Ronson arranges to try to fix the online reputation of a young woman who had an extreme shame experience, from _So You've Been Publicly Shamed_.

"Michael's strategists had been researching Lindsey's online life and had discovered literally nothing about her besides that "silence and respect" incident."

"That five seconds of her life is her entire Internet presence?" I said.

"Farukh nodded. "And it's not just this Lindsey Stone. Anyone who has that name has the same problem. There are sixty Lindsey Stones in the U.S. There's a designer in Austin, Texas, a photographer, there's even a gymnast, and they're all being defined by that one photograph. ... we're excited ... It's a challenging scenario but a great scenario. We're going to introduce the Internet to the real Lindsey Stone."

The great thing about the service involved is that they don't make shit up the way (apparently) some similar services do. They change rankings by creating a larger, but fundamentally honest online presence.

Which sort of raises all kinds of fascinating questions about taking the advice to put all social media on lockdown so as to avoid any possible future trouble associated with drunken photos with one's friends and similar. Maybe we all _need_ to have the fairly normal drunken photos with one's friends and similar to help people recognize that if we on one occasion or another completely insert our foot into our mouth and shove, it's just us being idiots and not us being monsters.

Ronson is (to me anyway) surprisingly unhappy about this. "We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland."


Ronson quoting a journalist friend, "who told me he had so many jokes, little observations, potentially risque thoughts, that he wouldn't dare to post online anymore."

""I suddenly feel with social media like I'm tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment," he said. "It's horrible.""

I am _somewhat_ sympathetic to this perspective. On those occasions where I have taken an unusual position on a controversial topic, I have sometimes had to make modifications to my blog's settings (IP tracking is now turned on, and anonymous comments have to be reviewed by me before they go live, for example, were the result of an exercise in shaming I engaged in a couple years ago. FWIW, I did a ton of research, with some assistance from a friend who is really good at this kind of thing, on the person I shamed that I _did not_ deploy, on the off chance the people giving me trouble did not decide to find something better to do. They found something better to do). It may seem difficult to believe, but I self censor a ton, and before undertaking a whole new layer of self-revelation, I often get a reality check from my husband, sister, High Priestess, etc. But at the same time, I feel like I've known a _lot_ of people over the years (many of them related to me) who would have described themselves as the anonymous journalist did: as having a lot of jokes and observations. Without the internet ever getting into it, a lot of those people figured out over a period of 20 years or so -- going from 13 to 33, for the most part -- and the loss of friendships and in some cases jobs that they really shouldn't be sharing their jokes and little observations with anyone who didn't know them really well and love their sense of humor.

Humor is a fucking dangerous enterprise. When it was mostly undersocialized nerds like me online, there was a kind of humor you could engage in that there is no way you'd get away with now (and honestly, rightly so in many cases).

I think where I am with the anti-shaming crusade is, YES, let's get rid of shaming online. And before we do that, let's institute some Best In Class terms of service and moderation technology and staff it appropriately. If you write a terms of service that basically says, don't go pissing everyone off by being an insensitive clod AND don't go pissing everyone off by laying into the insensitive clod just report it and move on, you'll wind up with a much more reasonable environment. After that, it's all about due process and judgments that make sure the innocent are not penalized, justice is served through the creation of deterring consequences that are proportionate to the harm inflicted, and acknowledge unsatisfied victims will keep coming back for more. Best In Class terms of service and moderation policies ALSO do their best to make it clear up front what constitutes a violation, so people who _want_ to comply _can_.

That will probably look a lot less like Twitter and a lot more like Facebook. Effective enforcement in some of the swampier areas of the internet should also help. I was really struck by what Mercedes Haefer had to say about the end of her law enforcement experience, an earlier portion of which is mentioned in Ronson's book:


"Over the span of 3 years we’ve gone from facing two felony counts, 15 years in prison, and $250,000 in fines to a misdemeanor, with no worse than one year of probation, and $5600 in restitution ($86,000 collectively). ... There have been setbacks and breakthroughs. It's been a long 3 years, I’ll never forget though how far one conversation can go if it speaks to enough people."

I'm sure someone out there will be annoyed that she/others was/were punished at all, and someone will be angry that the punishment was not more severe. What I noticed was that an articulate young person with a background in social sciences and a moral framework for her activism seemed happy to come out of this with a conviction, restitution and some amount of probation. If you can convince a smart hardcase that their punishment is acceptable, you've really made the system work.

If we could substitute this for shaming, the world would be a _much better place_.

ETA: "We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it." As good a definition of culture/enforcement of community norms as you are ever gonna find. Fighting this battle is Sisyphean.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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