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Is online shaming of COVID-19 rebels effective? Maybe, but not for everyone

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Is online shaming of COVID-19 rebels effective? Maybe, but not for everyone

Whether posting a video of a busy Vancouver beach or a photo of men playing basketball on an indoor court in Philadelphia, some Twitter users have resorted to online shame in an effort to convince others to respect physical distance measures.

And while psychology and sociology experts say that these tactics can work in some situations, they are more divided on their real effectiveness.

"It's difficult because, on the scale that would impact, the audience really matters," said Hilary Bergsieker, associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

"If the perception is that this is a generational thing in which the millennium generation is not concerned with the virus and the boomers are trying to embarrass them, you can get a group-based effect that people really don't care about. matter with the disapproval of an older generation because of you ". actions.

"Think of the classic dynamic that surrounds teenagers – sometimes other people's disapproval can almost be like a badge of honor."

#COVIDIDIOTS was trending on Twitter this week, with users sharing memes about social detachment and posting photos that showed members of their communities ignoring measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Harris Ali, a professor of sociology at York University in Toronto, believes that this kind of online shame can work.

He sees the situation as "social control", which he described as influencing people to change their behavior, and compared online shame to previous public health campaigns against smoking or drunk driving.

"One way to change social behavior is through the informal type of sanction, stigma and embarrassment," said Ali by telephone this week. "And you see that with smoking, right? The social norm has changed so that the smoker is stigmatized and ashamed. They cannot smoke in public because people give them a disdainful look.

"Public shame is the term they use today, and it actually leads to some results – people choose behavior. It is this idea of ​​working together. So if a guy does not distance himself from society, he feels bad , like: & # 39; Ah, I should be part of the team. I should work with everyone else, it shouldn't just be about me. "

Philip Walsh, associate professor of sociology in York, said the effectiveness of online shame depends on the intent of the caller.

"Are they doing it in a self-justified way? Are they doing it in a performative way? Or are they really trying to make a serious argument?" Walsh said, adding that he has seen cases of people asking for space in public when someone else gets too close to them.

These personal requests are good, said Walsh.

"I think everyone has to take some responsibility and be prepared to call people," he added. "We can be polite, but we can be firm."

Being firm in person is one thing. Being unnecessarily hard online is another.

While Ali said he does not personally agree with some of the shame he saw online, he sees value in a collective group that tries to shape the behavior of others in a public way.

The line between being cruel and being educational is not so clear.

"The best way is to take a more collective approach and try to educate people, but be aware that this can also backfire," said Ali. "You can say & # 39; you should quit smoking, it will kill you & # 39 ;, and the guy says & # 39; well, screw it & # 39 ;.

"So it is complex and difficult to give an adequate suggestion on how to do it."

Bergsieker believes that a better – but still public – way to take someone to take COVID-19 more seriously could be to show examples of people they admire following the recommendations and staying indoors during the pandemic.

Bergsieker said there were many examples similar to those in recent history, such as when celebrities publicly support political candidates, increasing their popularity among younger voters.

"We know from persuasion research that when you have a friendly, attractive and respected communicator, you send a message, people are much more likely to believe that message and internalize it," she said.

"So, it's about who is doing positive modeling and who is doing public shame."

While people may try different ways to involve others with social detachment and self-isolation, there will likely always be individuals who simply will not take it seriously, no matter what.

Bergsieker thinks that part of this has to do with the culture of Western societies like Canada and the United States.

"Turning to John Locke and many Enlightenment thinkers, people in Western societies tend to have an understanding of life more based on freedom and to emphasize freedom more," she said. "And that makes it more difficult to get people to make individual sacrifices that restrict their liberties for the good of the whole."

Walsh compared the situation to World War II, when rations existed, but people still kept goods and disregarded government mandates.

"There was this feeling that we were all in this fight together, but you still had people who didn't follow the rules," he said. "So you are not going to make everyone comply.

"I think the hope has to be that the effects of those who do not comply are not very significant."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 25, 2020.

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