A Collection of Posts On (Depending On Your Viewpoint) Social Consequences Or Internet Shaming

This week we had two very highly-traveled posts about Pax Dickinson. Clark framed his experience as public shaming, while I framed it as social consequences. The subject is clearly of interest to our readers — and has been of interest to me for some time — so I thought I'd collect the past posts touching on the subject. I may edit to add more as I find them.

Clark's Post on Public Shaming.

My Post on Social Consequences.

A Post On the Outing of "Violentacrez" of Reddit, a follow-up post, and a post contrasting a different Reddit shaming/social consequence incident.

A post about social consequences to Vancouver rioters.

A post about a young woman caught on camera being an asshole on the subway.

A post about social consequences falling on a college student for an obnoxious email.

A post about the consequences that befall a business that is rude to someone with a large audience; in this case it was the Bloggess, whose "stand by for a demonstration of relevance" is legendary.

And, of course, the story of Paul Christoforo, who got into an ill-considered fight with Penny Arcade.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. digitaurus says

    The potential social consequences for single rash acts really are extreme. Who hasn't behaved like a dick once in their life ? But there is no putting the genie back in the bottle, at least not without extraordinary re-engineering of the interweb thing.

    I like to think we will adopt the solution outlined by the late, great Ian M Banks in his "Culture" novels. If I recall correctly, in the Culture information about every single aspect of a person's life is a matter of public record, but it is in general considered unacceptably rude to dig around for it.

    So in the cases you outline above, I am expecting/hoping that it will become socially unacceptable to dig around for historical dirt – and that when people find it they will pretend they haven't seen it. If a person is crass enough to mention they came across a picture of someone naked in a pickup truck, it's going to be a case of "yeah, someone dropped a picture of me with my trousers around my ankles a couple of years back, so what".

    In some respects, all of this intense mutual social surveillance is taking us back to the days when the majority lived in small settlements for life. Everybody then knew exactly what a person had done on a wet Tuesday 20 years earlier.

  2. Caleb says

    I want to thank both Ken and Clark for the insightful posts (both recently and in the past) about this topic. I haven't commented yet because I'm not sure how to think clearly about the subject.

    I think Ken's censorship vs. social consequences axis is a helpful metric on which to place matters. Sadly, there seem to be few other promising axes.

    One distinction I find helpful is what I call the 'procedure vs. content' objection that Clark enumerated. That is: most people find a certain category of speech that criticizes speech (and the speaker) reprehensible. While these objections may be phrased in terms of neutral characteristic objections (procedural), they are often correlated with ideological or in-group affiliation (content).

    To me, it seems like a first-order question to answer is: should we credit objections to speech-about-speech only if phrased in content-neutral, procedural terms? Or should we recognize that all objection are likely ideologically driven and principally the same?

  3. Anglave says

    In cases like Charles Carreon's, Paul Christoforo's, and Craig Brittain's I guess I'm in favor of the rather extreme social pressures applied. These individuals did unpleasant things, in public, and were smug about their behavior. Furthermore, when called on their bad behavior, they doubled (and tripled) down.
    Let them suffer, perhaps they'll learn. Clark asked "So, I am genuinely curious as to what the goal of mass shaming someone is."

    In the cases I mentioned above, I'd like to think that the mass shaming applies negative consequences for undesirable behavior; something these individuals were previously sorely lacking. Their example may have the added benefit of curbing similar behavior by others.

    In the case of Mr. Dickinson, he said some offensive things (perhaps with tongue in cheek, or as satire). He was called out. Since those things were said in a way that could could potentially expose his employer to legal action, Pax lost his job.

    To his credit, he hasn't doubled down (that I'm aware of). He did say some inflammatory things; things he probably shouldn't have tied to his employer. But I do feel there has been an unpleasant element of intentional persecution and bandwagon-ing among his detractors.

    This contrasts with Carreon and Christoforo, who were offensive in their professional communications to specific other individuals. And when called out for their poor behavior, they banged their chests and told the internet to "Come at me, Bro!"

    The internet did.

    Pax's motivations for his speech might have been good (to mock truly offensive speech, or to instigate discussion), or might have been simply attention seeking. Nevertheless, I don't see that he set out to harm anyone for personal gain, which contrasts with the apparent motivation of Carreon, Christoforo, team Predna, Craig Brittain, etc.

    I hope Mr. Dickinson is able to learn from this, perhaps modify his behavior or persona, and move on.

  4. eddie says

    Who hasn't behaved like a dick once in their life ?

    "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone."


    "Mom, cut that out!"

  5. says

    I like to think we will adopt the solution outlined by the late, great Ian M Banks in his "Culture" novels. If I recall correctly, in the Culture information about every single aspect of a person's life is a matter of public record, but it is in general considered unacceptably rude to dig around for it.

    This is also the method used in L. Neil Smith's "Probability Broach" series, and I can't think of two writers with more divergent politics. :)

    It seems nearly every debate on this topic is, really, not a debate on "Should society react to speech it disdains?" but "Which speech should society disdain?" — however, few people seem willing/able to admit that it all comes down to "It's good when we do it to them, it's bad when they do it to us, and I'm a we, so I'm against they." Instead, they form insanely convoluted rationales to try to justify biased conclusions within an allegedly unbiased framework.

  6. jeff says


    Thanks for the laugh on a Friday afternoon!


    There's already too many asshats on the web. Reducing the penalty is only going to make it worse. I think Clark is right about why social consequences on the Internet may be out of proportion to the perceived crimes, but very few people HAVE to spend any time on the Internet. If you choose to do so, its not unreasonable to expect you to take the risk that seems to be inherent in the system.


  7. Jay says

    Today at CUNY, David Petraeus, on his way to give a lecture, met with a group of protestors whose behavior was so outrageous, that NPR felt the need to add this disclaimer:


    "We warn you, the video contains a couple of expletives and the aggressiveness means it can be tough to watch:"

    In November 2012, Warren Farrell was prevented from giving a lecture at the University of Toronto by a group of feminists. Their protests included shouting, name calling, shaming, shoving, and spitting.


    In 2010, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, had a speech at UCI disrupted by a group of protesters, who later were convicted of misdemeanor charges of disrupting a meeting.


    This seems to be, on the face of it, three almost identical activities: students about as aggressive as possible short of fighting, disrupt a speaker.

    CUNY's response so far is to do nothing.

    UCI's response was to charge the protesters criminally.

    University of Toronto's response was to initially do absolutely nothing.

    In response, a "men's rights" website, A Voice For Men, discovered the identities of several of the people involved, all students, all apparently over 18, and named them, and shamed them, and placed them on a "registry" they have. (register-her.com)

    A Voice For Men has done this on other occasions.

    There was a group of people that took razor blades and cut down legally posted AVFM posters.


    Some of the crew cutting down posters, expressed that their cutting down posters was an expression of their free speech.

    I personally dislike almost all doxxing, especially over speech related issues, what happens on the internet should stay on the internet.

    Over real life physical behaviors, well, is it doxxing, or is it reporting?

    Irvine prosecutors thought there were misdemeanors involved.

    For their reporting and doxxing, A Voice For Men was labelled a hate site. There were claims made that AVFM was calling for retribution. Their acts were labelled misogynist across the Internet and across mainstream publications.

    The women, doxxed, students, over 18, that had been videoed shouting, shoving, spitting, were portrayed as fragile, and now in need of protection from AVFM's speech.

    I dislike register-her.com, if only because I think it is counterproductive.

    But I note that at its barest, register-her.com seems almost identical to the various ihollaback sites, http://www.ihollaback.org/, which when they were created, allowed for completely anonymous uploading of photos of "street harassers" and provided no method of takedown for the various "accused" and the photos showed faces, and told a story, but without video or audio, there was no context other than a rote finger pointing, a face picture, and a label of "harasser".

    Intriguingly, when ihollaback launched, it was lauded by feminist websites as well as mainstream websites.

    (And my personal experience has been when I point out the similarities between ihollaback and register-her, I am "abused" in the comments.)

    I am curious what you make of this.

    Would you defend either A Voice For Men's activities or ihollaback's?

    What social consequences should any young undergraduate women expect when protesting a public speech and doing so through shouting, shoving, or spitting?

    How is register-her different from ihollaback?

    I have a conspiracy theory that Orville Redenbacher is behind most of this.

    Apart from that, I think that ihollaback, while good intentioned, is morally/ethically wrong to post the pictures they do, as they do, and I would like to believe it opens them up to charges of defamation, but believe perhaps not, perhaps that is free speech.

    I think that AVFM's register her is counter productive, but given the sourcing I've seen on the few claims I've looked at, I think they are on solid ground to publish what they publish, and their speech clearly is free speech, and even fits the definition of good journalism.

    I've blathered too much.

  8. Jay says

    To be explicit, the claims were that AVFM's "mere" publication of the names and images of these women were themselves calls for retribution, even though at no time did AVFM ever say anything that could be interpreted as any sort of call for retribution.

    The women were afraid merely because their name and image had been published at the AVFM website associated with the protests.

    They had a right to protest by shouting, shoving and spitting, and not be identified. That act of identification placed them in danger.

  9. AC says


    To me, it seems like the issue with social consequences on the internet are mostly a question of scale. If I act like an asshole in front of a group of ten people, many of them will think I'm an asshole. There's a small probability that one of them might take further action, like attempting to get me fired. If I act like an asshole in front of a million people, many of them will think I'm an asshole; but the small probability of one of them taking further action gets multiplied by the number of people audience. This is true whether I'm acting on the internet, or on television, or in a public venue.

    In other words, the response isn't "disproportionate", it's proportionate to the size of the audience. If someone like Pax Dickinson had been making similar comments on national TV, he'd also piss off a large number of people (for an example, look at Glenn Beck).

    Ultimately, then, I don't think the internet has anything really to do with the core of the issue; it makes it easier to reach a large audience, but that's really the only difference. Any arguments about the morality or principles behind shaming should, at least IMHO, also apply to anyone who pissed off people with a televised appearance or a mass mailing. In this case, the medium is not the message.

  10. says

    First post. (not FIRST but first)

    The discussion around Pax from both Ken and Clark was extremely interesting to read and I was planning to take some time for reflection before posting. Well, I reflection turns into procrastination turns into waiting for a summary post turns into reading something important that relates.

    This week's Economist mentions the work of Ignaz Semmelweis, who published a treatise on why as a doctor washing one's hands improved patient mortality rates. He was publicly shamed for this — it was insulting to gentlemen doctors and he was roundly criticized to the point that he slipped into depression and committed suicide.

    I think situations like these where the masses who are enforcing the norms of society it's pretty clear that public shaming is not only wrong but sorely misplaced. How many ideas that are outside the pale of "normal" thought is it ok to punish in such a way?

    Everyone deserves to be heard, everyone deserves to respond but to target an individual for shaming because you disagree with what they say or think is simply wrong.

  11. jdgalt says

    In my view the morality of naming and shaming depends very much on the consequences you are trying to, or likely to, bring on your target.

    There is nothing wrong with trying to get people to stop doing business with somebody you disagree with. Within the last couple of weeks we saw a wonderful example of how that practice can work both ways, in the case of the Oregon bakery whose owner didn't want to do business with gay couples. Yes, he lost in court, but that ruling (which I disagree with) had almost nothing to do with the actual outcome. Gay groups spread the word on the Internet, called for a boycott, and it put the bakery out of business. It seems that a lot more people considered the discrimination by the bakery to be morally wrong than considered being gay to be morally wrong — and both groups are free not to do business with their "immoral" opponents!

    I would not similarly agree with a "naming and shaming" campaign intended to get someone fired, or kicked out of their home or school, for reasons that don't call for that action. The tort of interference with a contractual relationship ought to apply very broadly there, whether it actually does or not and whether the actual firing/eviction/expulsion itself is legal or not.

  12. AlphaCentauri says

    If you're calling out someone for inappropriate behavior, you are standing up for what is right. But if you can't respect the target of your criticism as a human being, it's not going to come out right.

    If your criticism serves to make the target a better person, it is valuable. If it is simply grasping an opportunity to degrade another person, no matter how well-deserved, it doesn't serve society well.

    Every person is the nidus of a web of social connections, and the sting any criticism of any individual person is distributed among the other people who care about him/her. Your words can have a positive effect that ripples outward, or they can simply make the target and his social network dig in their heels and try to justify their position.

  13. James Pollock says

    "in the case of the Oregon bakery whose owner didn't want to do business with gay couples. Yes, he lost in court, but that ruling (which I disagree with) had almost nothing to do with the actual outcome. Gay groups spread the word on the Internet, called for a boycott, and it put the bakery out of business."

    "he" is the wrong pronoun, the name of the business is "Sweet Cakes by Melissa". It is not out of business, but rather, no longer operates out of a storefront. Also, there wasn't a lawsuit, but rather an investigation by a state agency.

  14. Jay says


    Men's Rights Edmonton videos two women they claim were tearing down Men's Rights Edmondton posters (one of them seems to be holding the remnants of the poster in her hand) and calls for people to help identify the two women so they can be well, shamed, as well as have charges of destruction of property brought against them.

    (I am certainly not a lawyer, I would have thought destruction of property of a poster you apparently abandoned (by posting) is dubious, but seriously, did I mention I am not a lawyer?)

    Anyway, other men and women caught tearing down MRE's posters have claimed the act of tearing down the poster was itself an act of free speech, and MRE and AVFM have been loudly excoriated for their videos of these teardowns and shaming of these feminists.

  15. says


    I despise people who tear down posters, steal newspapers, shout down speakers, and engage in similar "I will stop your expression" conduct. That's not free speech, by either colloquial or legal definitions. It's scumbag thuggery. I've written about it a number of times.

    I will note that I have noticed that the MRA movement likes to use the rather few instances as if they represented anyone who calls themselves feminists, anyone who the MRAs call a feminist, or anyone who is interested in the rights of half of humanity. I don't tend to see that dishonest rhetorical tactic from people on other political or social issues, even though there has been similar isolated conduct in connection with those issues. (For instance, even though an entitled asshole defaced Pam Gellar's anti-Muslim posters, even the anti-Muslim crowd seems to be too honest to go around saying "OMG opposing our anti-Muslim views means you're part of defacing posters.")

  16. Jay says

    I will note that I have noticed that the MRA movement likes to use the rather few instances as if they represented anyone who calls themselves feminists, anyone who the MRAs call a feminist, or anyone who is interested in the rights of half of humanity.

    FWIW, I think Men's Rights Edmonton and AVFM and truly, I'm not a real big fan of AVFM) has documented enough poster defacings *along* with official statements from women's groups in Edmonton and enough organized protests from what would seem to be typical representative feminists up there that I personally think it's reasonable to ask, what's up edmonton feminists? It's also been pretty well documented that at Canadian Universities the various student councils are being pressured to make even organizing a men's resources centers or men's rights groups on campus illegal/unallowable, even though there are plenty of women's resource centers and feminist centers (and women's studies departments). And so on, throughout North America and the world, but that's just my impression.

    I appreciate your response, but what I actually thought was the more interesting question for you, in terms of helping me understand your position, what are your thoughts towards AVFM trying to identify these women, and placing their pictures up at register-her.com? And even more importantly, what about their public identification, shaming, and posting of the students that were videoed shouting, spitting, shoving to prevent a discussion of men's issues from taking place?

    This latter action (posting of women at register-her) by AVFM has been used by many AVFM critics (including the SPLC) to brand them as a dangerous group threatening feminists that speak out, and possibly even a hate site, and yet seems to fall squarely within the notion of "free speech has consequences" for those women.




    Amanda Marcotte, who is a prime Register-Her target, writes about men’s rights activists less than she used to. That’s not because she doesn’t take them seriously — they introduce too many “anti-woman, anti-child, pro-abuse, pro-rape ideas into the public discourse” not to — but because “they’re so doggedly mean. It becomes frightening after a while.” Marcotte says the registry may incite violence against its targets, especially because many angry male activists are active abusers.

    It's that part where I would truly appreciate your thoughts:

    Register-her.com, a reasonable example of social networks demonstrating that free speech has consequences, or a dangerous site that threatens women and silences speech? (or some third option?)

    (Gah, AVFM. I dislike much of their rhetoric and many of their posts, but I often agree with them on the underlying issues. It is hard for me to judge them too harshly, I haven't seen another men's rights group with anywhere close to their "success". (Intentional use of scare quotes). I actually think if they had a board of directors with a couple of lawyers and PR types on it, they could do almost everything they do now and be a lot more successful and sympathetic and be a lot more effective.)

  17. CJK Fossman says


    Are you aware of the threats and harassment directed toward Pamela Jones of Groklaw?

    If so, what is your reaction?

  18. CJK Fossman says

    Here's a pretty good summary. Look for "media controversy" on the page:
    Wikipedia page

    Here's a text of Maureen O'Gara's article, with addresses removed:

    This article shows the connection between SCO and O'Gara.

    Here is another sample of her "reportage."

    Here is a Groklaw story about SysCon's apology:

    Pamela Jones' response to O'Gara

    Interesting to me, as I look back on this saga, is the way the Internet responded to O'Gara. Turns out there are a lot of us smelly communist nazi long haired mom's basement dwelling folks out there and some of us communicated with SysCon and its advertisers.

  19. CJK Fossman says

    Pamela Jones ran Groklaw. Groklaw was highly, and rightly, critical of bogus lawsuits filed by The SCO Group against IBM, Novell and others.

    There was a gang of four self-styled journalists who supported The SCO Group. Groklaw repeatedly called them out for misrepresenting the law, the General Public License (GPL) and the history Unix, Linux and past relationships between the various players.

    There is evidence that one of the four, Maureen O'Gara, was on the payroll of The SCO Group.

    This is all background. To this point, everybody's actions seem within the realm of allowed free speech.

    That changed in 2005 when Maureen O'Gara published "Who is PJ Pamela Jones of Groklaw." In that piece, linked to in my previous post, O'Gara published what she believed to be PJ's address, the address of PJ's son, the address of PJ's mother along with a photograph of a house alleged to the home of PJ's mother.

    So my first question to you is did Maureen O'Gara speech exceed the limits of free speech?

    Would it change your answer to know that there were unexplained suicides among people involved with SCOG's parent company? Would it change your answer if you knew that the president of SCOG, one Darl McBride, boasted of traveling incognito and carrying a firearm?

    My last point and its associated question. The Internet had a strong negative reaction of O'Gara's article. Her publisher, SysCon was deluged, as were SysCon's advertisers. SysCon apologized to Pamela Jones and terminated Maureen O'Gara as a contributor to "Linux Insider," where O'Gara's piece originally appeared.

    Does this seem a proportionate reaction to O'Gara's writing?