Public shaming isn’t a new form of punishment; for example, people used to be locked in stocks for crimes to embarrass them in a public fashion. But in the Internet age, public shaming has been taken to a whole other level. Stories can go viral because they are easier to share and mob mentality of people who can remain anonymous takes over. As a result, a number of people have had their lives ruined over something they did because of the shaming they received over the Internet. A lot of the people on the list didn’t even do anything illegal, yet they are branded with shame making it difficult to move on with their life.
Whether you support or oppose online shaming, at the very least, these stories should be seen as lessons; always think twice about your actions. You never know what might end up on the Internet that could lead to a worldwide scandal.
10. Dog Poop Girl
On June 5, 2005, a young woman with her small dog boarded a subway in Seoul, South Korea. At some point during the trip, the dog defecated on the floor of the subway. The owner of the dog made no attempt to clean it up, and when people told her to clean it up, she apparently got belligerent. Someone snapped a picture and details of the account were posted on a number of popular Internet forums.
Within hours, personal information about the young woman and her family were being shared online. Anything that might have been true about her was posted and she became national news. She was recognized in the streets and people sent her hate mail through her personal website. Out of humiliation, she had to drop out of University.
This was one of the first cases of Internet shaming. At the time, John Krim with the Washington Post wrote that the response to the incident “… was a remarkable show of Internet force, and a peek into an unsettling corner of the future.”
9. Taylor Chapman
On the morning of June 8, 2013, 27-year-old Taylor Chapman walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts in Ocala, Florida. Armed with her iPhone, Chapman recorded herself berating two employees who were working there. Chapman said she was there the night before and didn’t get her receipt. She said that, as part of Dunkin’ Donut’s policy, she was entitled to free food due to the oversight. At first, she wants the whole menu, before settling on what she apparently ordered the night before. Then over the course of eight minutes and nine seconds, she berates two employees who were unfailingly nice even though Chapman launched into a vile tirade that involved threats of violence along with sexual and racial slurs.
The amazing thing about this story is that Chapman posted the video herself on her Facebook. It quickly became viral and has been viewed almost a million times on YouTube and there are close to 12,000 comments on it. A lot of the comments are vile in their own right and are directed at Chapman, who has been suffering from mental illness since the age of 7 and has been hospitalized twice for it.
Due to the video she lost her job as a PR spokesperson. She also had to change her number because of threatening phone calls and deleted her social media accounts because of the harassment.
8. Paul Christoforo
All of us have had bad customer experiences at some point in our life. Some of us have even taken to the Internet to complain about it. However, not many customer service incidents have led to the end of a company via Internet shaming.
The whole fiasco started when “Dave,” a gamer with disabilities, ordered and paid for two N-Control Avenger PlayStation 3 controllers in November 2011. The controller was directed at intense gamers and gamers with disabilities. Dave emailed the company on December 12, 2012, politely asking for an update, because the controller was supposed to be released in early December. Ocean Marketing, who was hired on to handle the public relations on the delayed controller, replied with a date and the name of owner/manager of Ocean Marketing, Paul Christoforo. No apology or explanation for the delay was given. That date also happened to be incorrect and by the end of December, Dave had yet to receive the controller. Throughout December, Dave emailed Christoforo, trying to get updates on his now month-long delayed controller. Also, Dave had an issue that the company was now offering the controller for $10 off if a customer bought now, but Dave, who hadn’t yet received his controllers that he ordered six weeks ago wasn’t entitled to that discount. When Dave pointed that out, the emails from Christoforo got snarky and condescending. Christoforo told Dave to put on his “big boy hat” and to be patient.
At this point, Dave started including websites like Penny Arcade, Kotaku and other news outlets in the email exchange. Things got more and more bizarre when Christoforo started cursing and name-dropping in the emails. That is when Mike Krahulik, co-founder of the webcomic Penny Arcade, got involved. The whole thing was posted on Penny Arcade and you can read the email chain here.
Due to all the attention, Ocean Marketing’s web site crashed. Christoforo had to close his Twitter account because of how much hate messages he was getting. N-Control had their Amazon reviews tank. This led to N-Control firing Christoforo, and because of the PR firestorm, he was having problems getting work. Christoforo sued N-Control for defamation of character. He also begged Krahulik to take pity on him and to call off the attack.
7. Adria Richards
On March 17, 2013, developer evangelist Adria Richards was attending PyCon 2013, which was a computer programming conference. Behind Richards, who writes under the blog butyoureagirl.com, two men were joking about “big dongles” and “forking the repo.” After hearing the jokes, Richards turned around and took a picture of the two men. She immediately tweeted the picture and wrote, “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and “big” dongles. Right behind me #pycon [.]”
The two men and Richards were pulled aside. The men who made the joke quickly apologized. They admitted that the “big dongle” joke was a sexual reference (a dongle is something that plugs into a computer, like a thumb drive), but “forking the repo” wasn’t. It was a form of compliment; they were excited about a presenter’s project and said, “I would fork that guys repo.” Nevertheless, one of the men, who was never identified and worked at a mobile gaming company called GameHaven, was fired. The other man kept his job.
An interesting twist in this case was that Richards, who was doing the shaming, was also fired from her job at SendGrid. While she did have a right to call out the men for their sexism, public shaming was not the proper way to do so.
6. Melissa King
In 2013, 18-year-old Melissa King was crowned Miss Teen Delaware. The winner of a state teen beauty pageant is an interesting side note for a small circle of people. Definitely not fodder for news networks or anyone outside of Delware or the beauty pageant circuit. But that all changed when it was revealed that King was involved in a pornographic movie for an amateur pornography website. The story appeared on international syndications, like CNN and Fox News, broadcasting that a girl in a pageant that is owned by Donald Trump made an adult movie.
King, who was put into foster care when she was 12, grew up fairly poor. When she did pageants, she made money and with the website she saw it as another opportunity to use her looks to get ahead financially.
In the end, King had to give up her crown and she was publicly humiliated on an international level. Critics pointed out how antiquated the whole situation was; that a woman’s real value is purity. Once they have proof a woman isn’t pure, then it is okay to ridicule and humiliate her. This idea is something that American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was critical about in The Scarlet Letter, which was published in 1850.
5. Michael Brutsch
One of the great things about the Internet is that it has given the world the greatest amount of free speech and freedom of expression ever known. People can usually say or do what they please on the Internet; even hate speech isn’t off limits, especially if the author keeps his or her identity a secret. So while many things aren’t illegal to post, critics ask, can something be so offensive that, as human beings living in a civilized society, shouldn’t we just find some things inherently wrong?
This brings us to reddit forum moderator violentacrez (pronounced violent acres). Reddit is a popular social network where user content can be voted up or down. The content appears in subcategories, known as subreddits, and users can set up their own subreddits. There are currently over 440,000 of these subreddits.
Reddit is a great tool, it bills itself as the front page of the Internet, but it also has a darker side to it. There are subreddits that are just set up to be offensive and these were often moderated and even set up by violentacrez. In these subreddits pretty much anything shocking and offensive was posted. Some of the low-lights include posts and pictures involving incest, rape, gore, racism, dead children, and violence against women. Some people hailed violentacrez as a free speech hero of reddit, but a lot of people found him deplorable.
Things got a bit too edgy for reddit in 2011 when a subreddit called Jailbait that violentacrez didn’t create but was a moderator for and contributed hundreds of pictures to, was featured on Anderson Cooper 360. Anderson Cooper criticized reddit and violentacrez for allowing the subreddit that featured underage girls in bikinis or skirts. Reddit ended up closing the subreddit after the segment. After it was shut down a writer with the website Gawker tracked down violentacrez in real life.
In October 2012, in an exposé on Gawker, violentacrez was outed as 49-year-old Michael Brutsch, who worked as a programmer at a Texas financial services company. After Gawker exposed him, Brutsch went on Anderson Cooper 360 and it was a disaster. Brutsch defended himself, saying he just used the forum to blow off some steam and he wasn’t doing anything illegal. Nevertheless, he was fired from his job. This was especially unfortunate for Brutsch’s disabled wife, who relied on his benefits.
4. Justine Sacco
In December 2013, then 30-year-old Justine Sacco was travelling from New York City to South Africa to meet family for the holidays. Along her trip, Sacco, who was the senior director of corporate communications at an American media and Internet company called IAC, composed three tweets for her 170 followers.
As she was taking off from New York, she tweeted “ ‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ – Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” Then when she was on a layover in England, her tweet was “Chilly – cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. Back in London!” Finally, her last, and most offensive tweet was, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She then turned off her phone.
As Sacco boarded her plane, she wasn’t aware that her tweet was going viral. By the time she landed, she was the number one trending topic on Twitter. Tens of thousands of people responded to her tweet, a lot of them said she should be fired from her job and some even threatened her with death. People also realized that Sacco was not aware what was happening on Twitter and #HasJustineLandedYet started trending. Someone even went to the airport and took a picture of the oblivious Sacco as she arrived in South Africa. As soon she turned on her phone, she discovered how bad things had gotten.
IAC, who owns such websites as OkCupid, Match.com, CollegeHumor and Vimeo, fired Sacco immediately. Her family in South Africa, who were strong supporters of Nelson Mandela’s political party, told her that she nearly tarnished the whole family.
After being fired, Sacco volunteered for a month in Ethiopia doing public relations work for an NGO. Afterwards, she went to work for the website HotOrNot. She also says that she has had problems dating people, because people always Google the person they plan on dating and Sacco’s name is synonymous with a racist tweet.
3. Lindsey Stone
Lindsey Stone and a co-worker, identified only as Jamie, had been working for a company called Life (Living Independently Forever) for 18 months and according to the director of the organization, they were good employees. In October 2012, they were supervising a trip of a group of adults with learning disabilities to Washington, D.C. One of the stops on their trip was Arlington National Cemetery. At the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, in front of a sign that said “Arlington National Cemetery” and “Silence and Respect,” Jamie took a picture of 30-year-old Stone pretending to yell while she held up her middle finger. Jamie posted it to Facebook, and with Stone’s permission, tagged her.
At first, a few people said the picture was distasteful and Jamie asked Stone if she should take it down. Stone told her not to, it was part of their sense of humor. For example, they would take pictures of themselves loitering in front of a “No Loitering Sign.” Besides, after a few days no one would even remember it.
But Stone was dead wrong. Four weeks later, everything came crashing down when the picture went viral. 30,000 people liked a Facebook page demanding she should be fired; another 3,000 signed a petition asking for the same thing. There were death and rape threats.
Stone was fired immediately after it went viral, and she fell into a deep depression and didn’t leave her house for a year. She said she sat at home and read every vile and nasty comment about herself. Finally, after a dark year of depression and insomnia, she got a job caring for kids with autism, but she lives in fear that the picture may come back to haunt her.
2. Steve Bartman
It was game six of the 2003 National League Championship. The Chicago Cubs were at home, facing the Florida Marlins in Wrigley Field. It was the top of the eighth inning and the Cubs were leading 3-0 with one out. The Cubs were also leading the series 3-2 and they hadn’t won the Pennant since 1945. Cubs’ pitcher Mark Prior, who had allowed only three hits all game, pitched the ball and it was a hit that was heading down the left field foul line. There, a number of fans, along with Cubs left fielder Moises Alou, tried to catch the ball. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have meant that the Cubs would have been four outs away from playing in the World Series for the first time in 58 years.
Sitting in the front row was a 26-year-old man wearing a green turtleneck and headphones over a Cubs hat named Steve Bartman. Like the other fans in the area, Bartman reached out to catch the ball, but he was the only one to deflect it, effectively making it a foul ball. At first, only Alou and people in the immediate area were aware of what happened. Alou was furious because he felt he could have caught the ball. The game continued on, the next pitch was wild and the runner on base made it to third and the batter walked to first. From there, the Cubs completely fell apart and allowed eight runs, losing 8-3.
In Wrigley Field, there were no Jumbotrons for replays, but the television broadcast showed the replay of Bartman over and over again while the Cubs collapsed on the field. Fans watching at home called people who were at the game and told them what happened. That’s when the chants of “a**hole” started. Security had to escort Bartman to safety before the game even ended, while fans threw trash at him and dumped beer on him. He eventually had to be snuck out of the stadium. By the time the game ended, Bartman had been identified by people on the internet and his personal information was posted on MLB message boards. The police needed to guard his house, out of fear that someone would harm him or his family.
The next day, Bartman apologized, but Cubs fans were irate and things didn’t get better for them. The Cubs lost the next two games to the Marlins. Bartman had to go into hiding and changed his phone number of few times because of harassing phone calls from Cubs fans.
In the ensuing years after people had time to reflect on the Bartman incident, they realized that he had been treated as a scapegoat. Bartman has tried to keep out of the spotlight; he still works at the same financial services consulting firm he worked at during the time of the incident. He is still a Cubs fan, but hasn’t been spotted back at Wrigley Field, despite being invited back as a VIP. The Cubs, on the other hand, still haven’t made it to the World Series.
1. Monica Lewinsky
When Monica Lewinsky was 21-years-old, she became an unpaid intern with the office of the Chief of Staff. In November 1995, she started a sexual affair with then-President Bill Clinton and was then hired on full time in a paid position. In April 1996, she is transferred to the Pentagon because of “inappropriate and immature behavior” and inattention to work. While working at the Pentagon, Lewinsky met a government worker named Linda Tripp. Tripp recorded conversations with Lewinsky in which she talks about her affair with President Clinton. Tripp took the tapes to Newsweek, who planned on doing a piece on it.
The affair first came to light on the Internet gossip column, the Drudge Report, on January 19, 1998, saying Newsweek planned on doing a story about the affair, but had delayed printing it. Just two days later, several news organizations started reporting the affair and it all went downhill from there. Lewinsky became one of the most famous women in the whole world. She was the talk of both mainstream news organizations and tabloid magazines. She was the butt of many jokes on all the late night shows. Lewinsky was ridiculed for two different things. The first was the decision she made as a 21-year-old woman who was in awe of the most powerful man in the world. She was also body shamed because of her appearance.
After the scandal, the Clintons were able to move on, but Lewinsky’s name was still a joke. She moved to London and around the United States trying to find a job, but never landed one for very long because of her “history.” She was suicidal and her mother feared that she might be shamed to death.
Then in March 2015, Lewinsky gave a highly regarded and popular TED Talk in which she said that she was patient zero for viral web scandals. Lewinsky also said that “Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop.”