The landscape of the Internet is a tumultuous one. As a modern beacon of free speech and independent thought, the conversations that take place on this ever-evolving form of communication is home to a countless amount of differing opinions and the heated arguments that result. The social relationships that take place in this world are all unique, but range a wide scope of possibilities. Intellectual collaboration can unite individuals from across the globe and anonymous threats can interrupt the lives of many from a single computer. The digital space in which this instantaneous, globalized communication thrives can quickly become a focused, psychological weapon.
While the act of online “trolling” involves malicious intent, a rising trend of “online shaming” involves the concept of social advocacy and justice. At the heart of these movements is a well-intended goal of standing up to the inequalities that still exist today. From instances of racism to supporting international relief, online activism gains fast and strong followings due to its ease of contributing. However, the strength and novelty of this activism is also its weakness. Although the Internet provides almost unlimited accessibility to those who have access to a computer, the digital, yet invisible connections that are established between these advocates may lack the solidarity of in-person connections. By no means does this imply that online social advocacy is insignificant. More often this results in a loss of group control. Some calls to action can destroy businesses and ruin lives.
Famed journalist, author and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson explores this phenomenon in his latest book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”. Ronson systematically interviews a number of key figures in recent online incidents to get their take on what exactly occurred, the aftermath of their online shame and who they are as people overall. While some incidents carried legitimate outrage, such as Justine Sacco’s culturally insensitive Twitter activity in 2013, the sudden and irreversible consequences haunt Sacco to this day. When Ronson interviewed her a year later, the recalling of that fateful day was similar to remembering a traumatic experience. With a single mistake, she was bombarded with ridicule and stripped of her job, privacy and place within society.
In another personal but similar story, Ronson details how quickly advocacy dissolves into mayhem of mob mentality. After Adria Richards posted an image of a male tech developer who made a sexist joke in early 2013, a series of repercussions took place. Both were fired from their respective jobs and legions of Internet followers continued to harass Richards for her irrational decision. Ronson stated, “Someone tweeted Richards’s home address along with a photograph of a beheaded woman with duct tape over her mouth. Fearing for her life, she left her home, sleeping on friends’ couches for the remainder of the year.”
The negative backlash that social media posts can generate is a common fear among online users. One misunderstood statement can cause devastating offline damage since the Internet and many other applications act as instantaneous record keepers and permanent paper trails. This is one of the many factors that contribute to Internet-focused anxiety. Users of various social networks may stress on a constant basis in regards to one’s virtual image, even more than his or her real image. Although transforming into a social outcast is rare for many users, many of them try to avoid this outcome by appearing more well-adjusted and even superior to others.
This phenomenon is a new and developing concept, but is commonly called image crafting. Commonly exhibited during adolescence, the process is destructive, systemic and cyclical in nature. As social standing and acceptance is significant during these crucial years, teenagers may react to the perfect façade of their peers and others in their social networks and begin “constructing” their lives as something flawless. By boosting the achievements and advantageous aspects of their lives while ignoring the low points, these users seek to gain positive perception from others. Unfortunately in reality, these users are sacrificing an outlet to express themselves wholeheartedly and seek support when needed. In addition, the flawless image they do create lowers the self-esteem of others who cannot compare their own accomplishments. While some suffer from the anxiety to maintain their spotless online presence, others are afflicted with the depression of comparing themselves to perfection. In short, image crafting harms everyone involved.
Although both of these online phenomena are unique in their own right, both carry an underlying message of how social interactions can go awry online. The digitally connected world is not policed by any absolute authority. While this translates to a level of freedom not experienced in many locales of the real world, it can easily get out of control as users feel the need to take matters into their own hands and resort to all kinds of confrontations. As online relationships and images become more emphasized in the modern, technological age, examining the psychological damage they can create is equally imperative.
Sovereign Health Group is a treatment facility that aims to lessen the burden of many modern day stressors. If you or someone close to you is suffering from a traumatic experience or another mental disorder, drug and alcohol addiction or co-occurring disorders, Sovereign can help. Contact a consultant online via live chat or call us (866) 819-0427 at any time to speak to a member of our team.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer