Special Reports

Public shaming goes viral

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A new app in Philadelphia is successfully putting the power of public embarrassment in your hands and at least one doctor thinks that's the shame.

6ABC Poll

* The results of our poll will be made available today during Action News at 4.

Shena Hardin didn't win many fans with her high speed maneuvering onto a sidewalk to avoid a stopped school bus.

The punishment a judge imposed, though, did.

The judge ordered her to stand on a sidewalk, holding a sign proclaiming herself an "idiot." This episode of public shaming was just the latest to go viral.

Now a Philadelphia councilman has joined the shame game, with an app.

Councilman Bobby Henon says to think of the City Hall App as a place to instantly document any issue you might be having in your community and call out the person behind it.

An example: a Northeast Philly businessman called out the owner of a truck for illegally parking in front of his shop.

Then there is a post taken by a neighbor of a house with trash piled out front.

"They always have trash out front. It's been windy, it's been blowing on all the neighbors'," another neighbor Jim O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke applauded the person who took the photo and their effort to shame by shining a spotlight.

"It's great, maybe it will stop their bad behaviors," O'Rourke.

Councilman Henon is even going one step further.

"I'm also having hearings with public safety and L&I to bring in bad neighbors and bad landlords to publicly shame them," Henon said.

Henon stands behind the practice of public scolding because he says it works.

"People are straightening up their properties, people are paying their taxes," Henon said.

Online there are examples everywhere of public embarrassment, including kids wearing t-shirts that say they skipped school, a 12-year-old holding a sign that says he likes to steal, and a boy who was shamed for being a bully.

But while public shaming may satisfy you in the moment, Raymond McDevitt of the Council for Relationships says in this online age, we may need to think beyond the instant gratification.

"Just doing it and then it will go away - things used to go away, they never go away anymore; they are there forever," McDevitt said.

What you may find as funny or making a point could damage a sense of community.

"That doesn't make for a community coming together, it makes people taking sides, pointing," McDevitt said.

And with children, McDevitt says, there's an even greater risk.

"Girls and women they will withdraw, they will become more silent, they won't speak up for themselves. With boys, they react the opposite, they are going to get aggressive, and they are going to get violent," McDevitt said.

McDevitt says shaming someone will make them feel bad about themselves, but won't necessarily correct their bad behavior, so he suggests focusing on the act and not the person.

"Once they feel that they are what's wrong, that's pretty hard to change, how do you change yourself, but the act can be repaired," McDevitt said.

We'd love to get your take on all this.

We've posted a poll for you to tell us, whether you're a parent, a teacher, or anyone else in a position of power, would you use public shaming to punish bad behavior?

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