DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
A Blackberry phone user accesses micro-blogging site Twitter.
The Internet has made it increasingly easy for people to express themselves. Getting online has never been easier – users young and old can update statuses on social networking sites from their smartphones, publish a blog post on Wordpress and promote it all over the web, and get in touch quickly and easily with friends and strangers.
The Internet is also an incredibly public platform for expression – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have varying degrees of hard to navigate privacy settings, and users are often left more exposed than they assumed they were. During times when issues like race and sexuality are most discussed, like election season, social media reactions peak, and so does coverage of those reactions.
Sites like Buzzfeed and Jezebel have taken heat for going to elaborate lengths with their public exposure and shaming of homophobic and racist posts on Twitter and Facebook. Offensive posts have inspired their own blogs and spin-off social media accounts that aggregate inappropriate material.
"One of the things that Gawker is good at is they often push the boundaries of what's considered acceptable precisely to show how fragile those boundaries are," said Buzzfeed's Matt Buchanan. "How far is that away from highlighting tweets that are racist or ignorant?"
However, critics say setting these offensive commenters up for public ridicule and abuse is dangerous. "Out of all of the forms of justice that we can possibly engage in I think mob justice is probably the least desirable," said Fruzsina Eordogh. "I feel like setting up anyone on the internet to be harassed, especially for minors is dangerous and irresponsible."
Is there a line being crossed when it comes to drawing attention to users who post racist or homophobic things online? Should the age of the user determine whether they ought to be publicly shamed, or are all public posts fair game? Does being exposed and chastised online change the behavior of users who post offensive material? Or might the reposting of such comments actually give the authors the attention they’re seeking?
Matt Buchanan, editor of BuzzFeed FWD
Fruzsina Eordogh, writer for ReadWrite and Slate’s tech blog Future Tense; formerly covered online communities and Internet culture at the Daily Dot