Author’s Note: This is the fourth part of an ongoing series. My intent is not to bring attention to myself nor to any particular party. You’ll notice I speak here in generalities. I refuse to participate in the same witch hunting that is ruining our online communities. My intent is to raise awareness of the inherent problems of public shaming so that we ALL may back away from the practice. To catch up, you can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.
Picture this. You log into Facebook one morning and notice that you have several unread messages. Curious, you open one. It’s a contact of yours. An acquaintance, not really a friend, but someone you’ve had plenty of interaction with online. Their message is as follows:
“Hey man, I don’t want to get involved or anything, but I thought you should know that people are talking about you! I’ve included some screen shots so you see what’s happening, but I’d rather you didn’t tell anyone I showed them to you.”
What you see in the screenshot is a public post from another casual acquaintance. Someone from your writing community or art club or music circle. They’re accusing you of something. Publicly. Right there for the whole world to see. Your heart rate increases. Surely there’s been some mistake. Ten, fifteen people have suddenly blocked you from their friends lists. No one has come to you privately (save your well meaning friend who doesn’t want to be involved.) No one offered to talk to you directly about any of this.
Maybe you got into a political argument with them a day or a week prior and came down on the wrong side of the moral majority and now you’re literally a nazi.
Maybe you had an awkward conversation with a girl online late one night and misread some signals. Now you’re being accused of sexual harassment.
Maybe you’re a freelance editor and you’ve been buried in work. Suddenly you’re perpetrating a heinous fraud. A slime-ball thief who only meant to rob unsuspecting authors of their hard earned money and NEVER intended on finishing those edits in the first place!
You’ve been publicly shamed on social media. Now what?
First of all, don’t blame the people sending you screenshots. Even though they never come to your aid publicly and may SEEM like they’re just trying to fan the flames and watch the drama, they usually DO mean well. They just know that if they get in between you and the angry mob, they’re going down with you.
Rest assured, you DO have options. Your public career is NOT over. You don’t HAVE to bend to the will of the witch hunters.
1. They only wield as much power as you give them
Don’t defend yourself. Just don’t do it. Allowing the witch hunters to control the narrative by putting you on the defensive will end in failure. You see, you’re already guilty in their eyes. They’ve seen the screen shots, remember! The out-of-context, totally blown out of proportion screen shots. If they ever had any intention of giving you a fair shake, they would have contacted you privately as adults to discuss your side of the situation before they cast public guilt on you in the first place.
And do not bloody apologize! You may think it will calm everything down, even if you truly believe you did nothing wrong, if you just say you’re sorry. They’ll forgive you, right? Wrong. They’ll hang you from your apology and laugh as you shit yourself as you choke to death on it.
Do not even acknowledge the so-called charges. Do you. Go on about your life and ask your well-meaning friends who will continue to try to keep you up-to-date on the witch hunters’ public shaming attempts to simply drop it and stop talking to you about it.
You will find, curiously, that ignoring the fire is the strongest wet blanket you can throw on an internet mob attack. They HATE when you don’t give them attention. They are, after all, accusing you of career-ending atrocities. Only, as I’ve discussed in previous parts of this series, the witch hunters have accused so many people of being harassers, racists and closet homophobes at this point that their weapons have dulled edges. The accusations by and large fall on deaf ears.
2. You don’t have to watch it happen in real time
Log out. Your career doesn’t end if you’re not on social media for a day or a week. Often times it feels like if you’re not actively engaged in your own public execution, it’s a sign that you’re guilty. That you’ve lost. After all, since no ACTUAL charges are EVER going to be brought against you, the only way the witch mob “wins” is if you go away. So it feels natural to stand your ground and refuse to make yourself unseen.
Only that’s just going to cause you more stress. The fact is, witch hunting is a bustling business. There’s going to be a new witch to burn next week or next month. Within a day or two or a week or two some other poor sap is going to have his head under the ax. Sure a few over zealous witch hunters will continue to harass (ironic isn’t it?) and berate you to those in your creative circles who love to sit back and watch a good witch burning, but the heat will die off surprisingly quickly.
Taking a week or two to yourself to catch up on work or spend time with real life friends and family can do a lot to bolster your morale and keep you thinking positively in the face of a very stressful, very traumatic situation.
Come back whenever you want, and yes, expect a fresh wave of crazy public posts about you upon your return, but notice how much less bite there is to it the second time around.
3. Don’t take it personally
One of the first things you’ll want to do is retaliate. You’ll want to try to dig up all the dirt you can on the witch hunters. After all, we’re all human and in the digital age of no privacy, all of our sins happen publicly. Maybe you watched one of the most vocal witch hunters get black out drunk and projectile vomit all over your shoes at an industry convention after he couldn’t handle rejection from a woman, and now he’s trying to lecture YOU on how to behave around the opposite sex.
Resist the urge to sink to his level. You will only further embarrass yourself and taint your artistic legacy by getting into the mud slinging. Remember, these people truly believe they’re doing the right thing by culling the community herd. It’s nothing personal. They aren’t attacking you because you’re actually a bad person. They’re attacking you because they assume EVERYONE is bad until they prove otherwise.
4. Remain supportive of your community
It’s going to sting when a mentor or an author or artist you grew up idolizing joins in the attack on your reputation. Again, it will feel natural to feel hurt and betrayed. You’ll want to throw their books away or rip their artwork off your walls. But one of the best things you can do is remain respectful and supportive of your community. Keep buying and reviewing books. Keep participating in themed art challenges. Keep your head up. This will go a LONG way toward making the rest of the community supporting the head hunters start to second guess the flimsy examples of proof that were provided at your public sentencing.
In the end, unless you give witch hunters the power to shame you out of your online community, it is only a matter of time before the heat dies down, the fire goes out and the witch hunters are on to the next target.
The BEST thing you can do is refuse to participate in the public lynchings that don’t involve you. To privately contact those who do get themselves involved and explain to them the harm they’re doing to their community. I believe we’re at the end of the public shaming era. It’s only a matter of time before this hysterical practice has lost all its effectiveness. Until then just sit back, relax and remember, this is all just a simulation inside of a computer program anyway.