Why Shame Publicly?

Key reasons behind the rise of public shaming.
Why Shame Publicly?

A quick glance around any train station or bus stop will affirm it: Singaporeans are living more of their lives online.

Mobile devices and social media have eased connectivity. And media experts observe that with more time spent online, more are seeking affirmation from the virtual public domain, a key reason for the rise of public shaming.

“For young people who have grown up with smartphones and constant connectivity, it’s an ‘always on’ generation,” says Assistant Professor Natalie Pang of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University.

“It’s become a norm to have conversations with the ‘public’. So both the ubiquity of media devices, and the normalisation of messages being ‘mass personal’, contribute to the rise of public shaming.”

Dr Brian Lee, head of UniSIM’s communication programme, published his research on Facebook in 2013 about the impact of social media on youths in Singapore. He believes social media is changing the psyche of the average Joe.

Recording videos of anything of interest has become an instinct, he says.

“It seems posting online has increasingly become a second nature to some.” Psychology adds fuel to the flame. Says Asst Prof Pang: “It is also extremely tempting to use social media for vindication and emotional support… What may be intended as a relatively private post, sharing an opinion with friends, can turn into a very public one, which has more serious consequences.”

And the consequences can be severe.

For Jover Chew, who ran a mobile phone shop at Sim Lim Square, getting caught for bullying customers had caused the tables to turn on him. Chew drew ire after a video of a Vietnamese tourist kneeling and begging him for a refund went viral. Online vigilantes circulated topless pictures of Chew. His personal details were revealed online.

Explains Asst Prof Pang: “The motivations are not always self-centred or malicious. I think some people do it because they would like to change what they perceive are undesirable behaviour, [not] with the intention to harm the other party.”

It is also extremely tempting to use social media for vindication and emotional support.

The public shaming of Chew has already made some impact – and not just for Chew, who was jailed and fined for cheating $16,599 from 26 victims.

After Chew’s unethical business practices came to light, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament in April that the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act is being reviewed. The Act, introduced in 2004, aims to help consumers to seek redress against unfair trade practices.

Despite the perceived efficacy of public shaming (or of its milder cousin, feedback posted on social media), Asst Prof Pang believes there is still room for feedback to be given privately through conventional channels.

She says: “Did they [consumers] not trust the channels? Did they have a bad experience before? Perhaps it’s just easier to click and use the smartphone? Perhaps it is faster to get responses and instant gratification?”

Organisations could therefore consider improving individual engagement. And rather than rely on general messaging, messages could be framed for target audiences, by recognising the evolving trends across different platforms and their features, as well as the profiles of users.

“The key is to set up communication channels that are highly responsive, easy to use and trusted,” says Asst Prof Pang.

Read the main cover story:

    Sep 2, 2016
    Lynda Hong
  • link facebook
  • link twitter
  • link whatsapp
  • link email