Is Public Shaming the Same as Cyberbullying?

How to tell the difference between public shaming and cyberbullying


When Lindsey Stone’s friend posted a picture of her making a rude gesture and pretending to yell in front of the “Silence and Respect” sign at Arlington National Cemetery, she never anticipated the response she would good get.

Even though Stone’s photo was posted with her permission and on a private Facebook page, it quickly went viral. Someone copied and shared her photo and it spread quickly from there.

Suddenly, there were news crews everywhere; her name and her picture were all over social media and people were angry. There were sites that called for Lindsey Stone to be fired and even some extreme ones called “Set Fire to Lindsey Stone.”

The public shaming that ensued led to Stone being fired from her job and retreating to her home afraid to venture out for than year. But is the public shaming she experienced the same thing as cyberbullying?

When it comes to cyberbullying and public shaming, they both involve humiliating another person online. They also both involve online activities like:

  • Creating a social media page meant exclusively for harassing the victim
  • Sharing the victim’s personal information
  • Distributing embarrassing photos of the victim on social media
  • Calling the victim names in social media posts or making threats online
  • Sending cruel or threatening messages through texts, tweets, instant messages and emails
  • Sharing videos that embarrass the victim
  • Developing a fake social media profile and pretending to be the victim
  • Sharing or creating rumors or gossip about the victim
  • Adding the victim’s name to a public list online

The difference between the two is that public shaming is often considered acceptable by large groups of people.

Meanwhile, most people feel cyberbullying is wrong and needs to be addressed and prevented.

Take Lindsey Stone as an example. Most people felt she had disrespected the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and therefore deserved to be shamed and humiliated for her lack of respect. There was a large amount of public support for what the public shaming she experienced. And no one engaging in the shaming felt that they were doing anything wrong.

Additionally, with public shaming there is agreement among large groups of people that humiliating a person online is appropriate punishment when someone has done something wrong. It is common for people to think that a perpetrator deserves to be demeaned.

Another difference between cyberbullying and public shaming is the scale to which others are involved. Usually, cyberbullying occurs when one or two people attack another person online. This initial attack may then lead to others to join in, or it may just involve one or two people as the tormentors. But the group of people cyberbullying the victim usually is not as large as the group involved in a public shaming incident.

While it is true that sometimes cyberbullying will involve a large group of people, usually everyone knows the victim. Occasionally, a stranger might contribute to the cyberbullying by adding a comment or two but typically the cyberbullying is limited in scope compared to public shaming.

Meanwhile, public shaming occurs on a much broader scale and many times is perpetuated by complete strangers. What’s more, public shaming incidents typically go viral with hundreds of thousands to millions of people viewing the incident, many of which will make a comment or repost the incident.

In simpler terms, cyberbullying victims remain a private citizens. Meanwhile, with public shaming, the public recognizes a publicly shamed victim. They go from being a private citizen to a very public one. Both victims experience shame, embarrassment and humiliation, but the extent to which the world knows about it is much different.

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