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Should people who post offensive material online be publicly shamed?

Nov 16, 2012

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A Blackberry phone user accesses micro-blogging site Twitter. Credit: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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?

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