Online Public Shaming: Virtues and Vices

Journal of Social Philosophy 51 (3):371-390 (2020)
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We are witnessing increasing use of the Internet, particular social media, to criticize (perceived or actual) moral failings and misdemeanors. This phenomenon of so-called ‘online public shaming’ could provide a powerful tool for reinforcing valuable social norms. But it also threatens unwarranted and severe punishments meted out by online mobs. This paper analyses the dangers associated with the informal enforcement of norms, drawing on Locke, but also highlights its promise, drawing on recent discussions of social norms. We then consider two crucial conditions that online public shaming must meet in order to be justifiable: proportionality and accountability. We argue that these requirements are in fact frequently violated, rendering most cases of online public shaming unjustified. While the use of online public shaming against others’ vices has some apparent virtues, it is currently rarely justified, given its own vices.

Author Profiles

Tom Parr
University of Essex
Paul Billingham
Oxford University


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