At its best, the Internet is the ultimate tool for sharing, networking, raising awareness, and building community. It brings us together. At its worst, well, things can get pretty bad. I’m not just talking about the kinds of rude responses that made sites like CT close their comment sections.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen kids pushed to suicide after being bullied online; angry mobs turning people’s social media mistakes into memes, hashtags, and viral takedown campaigns; vigilantes going after the accused in real life. It’s scary.
The conversation over how we employ shame online has reemerged in the weeks leading up to Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, as he shares his research of heartbreaking, cringe-worthy, troubling stories in The New York Times and The Guardian.
These examples correspond with CT’s latest cover story—the magazine’s first-ever emoji blushing on the front page—on our evolving understanding of shame. CT executive editor Andy Crouch brings examples from the worldwide web into a broader discussion of shame as it plays out in traditional Eastern (and, increasingly, modern Western) cultures.
Beyond this package examining how fame and shame relate to the gospel, we at CT feel called to address Christian involvement in online shaming. Christians, too, can get wrapped up in an accusatory, reactionary, defensive mentality designed to “call out” and “expose” the people we interact with online. I’ve watched it happen; I’ve RT-ed posts or adopted trending hashtags to take part. I’ve also observed the aftermath—harsh words between leaders and bloggers, or sometimes apologies for letting things get out of hand.
And yet, social media remains a powerful tool for tough conversations, for considering others’ opinions and recognizing our own blind spots. How can we be open to critical discourse without resorting to shame-based campaigns against one another? How can we launch conversations designed at building up and honoring the Body of Christ, rather than bringing people down?
We invite you, our readers and followers, to join us and several influential Christian leaders and bloggers, in a Twitter chat on our experiences with social media shame. Please tweet with us Thursday, March 12, starting at 8 p.m. EDT, using the hashtag #CTshame.