Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Online Mob Shaming Is a Fact of Life And There's Not Much You Can Do About It

Credit: PinkMoose

Some people have wondered whether firing an employee for behaviour outside of work is appropriate, as in the case of the Hydro One employee who was terminated after his crude behaviour towards a Global reporter.

I think it's fine. Employers should be able to terminate an employee for any reason. And I think this was a natural consequence.

My reaction to this story is informed by this report by the CBC's Neil McDonald about online shaming.

The termination was probably spurred by the fact that the video of the reporter went viral, and of course it was accompanied by a lot of disapproval. I don't know how the Hydro One employee was identified, whether his bosses identified him, or whether there was an impromptu investigation by vigilantes.

But it made me think about online shaming in the political world.

Remember the case of Memories Pizza, that restaurant whose owner was effectively shutdown because she said she wouldn't cater a gay wedding?

That was a great example of online mob shaming.

I thought it was appalling.

I think there should be a lot of tolerance for people to express their political, social and religious beliefs in public without grave consequences like losing your livelihood.

But I wondered: what could be done to stop mob shaming?

And the answer I came up with is: nothing. Unless a more powerful entity stops it, which is not often the case. 

The reality of mob morality is that if the mob is big enough, it can shame anyone into submission. It can do whatever it wants, and nobody can stop it.

It's like the lynch mobs of old.

The only thing that can limit the mob is to reason with the individuals inside it to learn to tolerate opinions they disagree with.

Online mob shaming reminds me of  the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where the Red Guard, accompanied by thousands of fellow travelers, would hold up "reactionaries" for public shaming, which was often accompanied with physical abuse.

The political goalposts were always shifting during the Cultural Revolution.  What was an acceptable opinion last year could result in shaming and ruin, the year after. Sometimes I feel like our political system is a bit like that. Holding on to last year's opinions could be detrimental to your existence.

The danger of mobs is that they become a power unto themselves. They can get what they want when they want because they have power and minorities don't.  The Social Justice Warriors who lead online mobs feel very justified in their crusade. It's to preserve human rights, after all. Just like Chinese Revolutionaries thought they were defending human rights.

What really happened was a greater human rights violation than the alleged crimes of the accused. The ends justified the means. If one man had to die for the greater good of all, so what? I'm not suggesting that SJW's are going to kill anyone. They don't have to go that far to get their way. But it's the same logic: their goals trump other considerations.

The good news about a mob mentality is that its nature is intrinsically self-implosive, like Communism. At some point, the leaders step over a line and the majority will not follow, and the mob loses power. People don't like being bullied into submission, just like people didn't like the State running their lives under Communism. The question is how far it will go before that happens.