How To Avoid A Social Media Shaming

19 January 2016, 17:19 | Updated: 8 May 2017, 17:09

shaming asset
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

What can we learn from Amy Schumer calling out a teenager on Twitter?

A minor scandal made it's way round news sites today after a teenager posted a misogynistic joke towards comedian and all round badass Amy Schumer. And her response has won praise and criticism from tweeters and social commentators alike.

It's a harsh lesson for 17-year-old film critic Jackson Murphy. Perhaps too harsh, but we'll come on to that.

The story begins on Sunday night (17 January) when Murphy was attending the Critic's Choice Awards with his father. An opportunity to have his picture taken with Amy Schumer presented itself, to which Amy graciously obliged. That should have been the end of the story. At least, that's where Jackson wishes the story ended.

Unfortunately, he decided to post the picture on Twitter with a joke. A bad joke. It's since been deleted but (of course) somebody took a screenshot for the purposes of posterity. Amy did not take to kindly to the tweet and called him out.

Sensing the offence he had caused, and the impending shit storm that was about to sweep into his feed and drown his future job prospects, he apologised almost immediately and Amy accepted. Now *THIS* should be the end of the story. But never underestimate bloodthirsty, vitriolic twitter users to turn an altercation between two individuals into a very severe public shaming. 

Almost immediately tweeters both started hurling abuse at both Jackson and Amy. For Jackson, he was accused of being a misogynistic, slut-shaming asshole. Amy's crime, however, is being uptight bully, abusing her power against a 'poor kid'. The abuse she has received under her tweet is staggering in both it's perniciousness and sheer volume. 

Does making a bad joke make you a misogynist? Maybe. But is one bad joke worthy of a stream of abuse from strangers, and then further exposure in news reports around the world? He might as well change his name to 'Don't Hire Me' because as soon as any employer Google searches his name, they're going to hit this story and freak. Just ask Justine Sacco.

But what about Amy? Why should she put up with "jokes" like that, even if the intentions were innocent? To do nothing is to give the impression that jokes with a misogynistic undertone are okay. And they're not. In no way can they be justified. Her hand was forced in some ways. It's completely acceptable that she didn't let it slide. She had to let him know that it was not okay. But the abuse she has received since has been staggering in both it's perniciousness and it's sheer volume. If you can stomach it, you can read the replies underneath her response.

Anyone who's read Jon Ronson's (excellent) So You've Been Publicly Shamed will be aware of the contradiction of public shamings like Jackson's. In fact, it's a classic example. He's done something questionable. People called him out for it. However, the repercussions of his actions have far outstripped the initial crime. Arguably, he's likely to suffer consequences greater that the moral significance of his initial transgression.

In the book, Ronson concludes that he cannot justify joining public shamings on social media anymore because of this disparity. We think he has a point. Media sites that initially reported the story might want to consider exercising more caution in future. Amy was right to confront him like she but did the media have to publicise it further? It was hardly the most important news story of the day. That would be this

That's not to say that lessons can't be learnt. It's worth being reminded that, unlike many social media sites, Twitter is a publishing platform. What we write is made public to all, which always carries the risk of misinterpretation. It is, therefore, not an ideal testing grounds for jokes. In fact, it's probably the worst place for that. For example, we might tell a bad joke to a friend, to which you might usually receive an unforgiving look and that's it. The friend will probably forget about it within a week. But the internet never forgets. Just ask Justine Sacco.

Users have to be aware that anything published on sites like Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr could be misinterpreted. In Jackson's case, we think he might have been attempting a Schumer-esque joke, a play on the name of her show, Inside Amy Schumer. But it didn't come across that way. Perhaps checking with someone before he pressed send would have been wise. Not sending at all would have been better. A simple 'thanks for the photo' would have sufficed. 

In a world where our digital fingerprints are effectively potential evidence against us for a later date, exercising more caution is key to avoiding a social media shaming. That, or, take a comedy course. Remember why Amy Schumer is so funny? She's worked at it for years and years...offline.