Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of people lecturing others about what they should or should not be doing. I suppose it’s only natural, since so many of us are at home, bored out of our skulls. Yesterday, I noticed several of my friends posting yet more pleas to others to make sure they follow all the pandemic rules. I get why some of them are doing it. COVID-19 is very scary. People are getting very sick and sometimes dying, and being stuck at home SUCKS. We all want life to get back to normal, and posting a clever pandemic themed meme or a heartfelt Facebook post makes it feel like we’re doing something constructive.
However, when every other friend is posting about the importance of social distancing and wearing face masks, social media quickly becomes a source of frustration and irritation. Frankly, a lot of the information being shared by well-meaning people isn’t entirely accurate. I’ve started to hide posts and unfollow the worst offenders, because mainly, I don’t need the extra stress or aggravation. I am capable of reading up on what the experts say I should be doing. So are you. It’s gotten to the point at which I’m starting to view pandemic shamers as being akin to Trump supporters.
Last night, I found an interesting op-ed on The New York Times entitled “The Seductive Appeal of Pandemic Shaming”. I mostly agreed with what the author, Jennifer Weiner, wrote. The only thing I didn’t like was that she decided to use the trendy pejorative “Karen” to describe angsty, middle-aged, white women who seem to be the worst “pandemic shaming” offenders right now. As regular readers might remember, I kind of hate the recent trend of co-opting perfectly good names like Karen, Becky, Chad, and Susan to put other people down. However, overall, I liked Weiner’s message to the masses. She writes:
...posting pictures of non-compliers on social media, or calling them out to their faces, is unlikely to help. It might even make things worse. And it comes with risks to groups who are already suffering more than most from the virus and its effects.
She continues with a quote from Damon Young, author of “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker,” who has seen a lot of people calling other people out for not following the rules.
“I understand the compulsion” to call people out, Young said. “But is it really helping? If what you’re doing is supposed to be about saving lives, is this actually doing it?”
Frankly, I don’t think it does help very much. What it mostly seems to do is piss people off and make the situation worse. I was reading the Duggar Family News group this morning and someone posted about how Jill Duggar Dillard posted on Instagram about how she and her husband, Derick, went to visit Derick’s family. As Duggar followers know, Jill and Derick, like most of the rest of the Duggar family, live in Arkansas. According to group members in the know, Arkansas has not enacted a “stay at home” order, nor is wearing face masks in public currently a requirement there.
Jill and Derick went to see his mother and stepfather and did not wear masks or practice “social distancing”. Derick’s mother, Cathy, has some significant health issues, which were documented on the Duggar family’s reality shows before Jill and Derick fell out with The Learning Channel and Jim Bob Duggar. Lots of posters were going off about how *wrong* and irresponsible it is that Jill and Derick didn’t wear masks and gloves… or that they visited his family in the first place. As I read shaming response after more outraged and shaming response, I was suddenly reminded of an angry hive… a somewhat timely image, as I read about the murderous hornets that are now in the news. And then I took note of this exchange:
Notice the overall tone of these posts. It’s kind of aggressive. The hand-wringing face mask crusaders are doing their best to shame the holdout into seeing their view. But are they changing her mind? Not really. As you can see, she gets more and more hostile. I doubt she’ll be donning a face mask due to these people– perfect strangers who don’t know or care about her– piling on her on social media. And I’ll bet there were a lot of people reading who silently agreed with the original poster. Most adults like to think of themselves as able to take care of themselves without “special help”, especially in the United States– “land of the free”.
After I read this post, I thought of another quote from Weiner’s op-ed, which came from Syon Bhanot, a behavioral economist who teaches at Swarthmore. Does calling people out online for their “misbehavior” actually make the situation better? Does it save lives? Bhanot says that when you point out misbehavior online,
“you’re not confronting it — you’re virtue-signaling.” And confronting wrongdoers in person “is not going to be motivationally effective,” he added. “Shaming creates defensiveness. It doesn’t persuade, it entrenches.”
Makes perfect sense to me, especially when you look at the exchange I read in the Duggar Family News group. Neither side was backing down. The conflict was getting worse. The mood was getting uglier. And I wondered if that made things better in the already difficult situation we’re all having to weather right now. Bhanot says that instead of personally calling out “wrongdoers”, it’s better to appeal to the authorities and ask them to handle it on an organizational level. I would also add that sometimes there’s something going on that you don’t know about and is none of your business. One astute German in a local Facebook group posted that someone you see in public who is not wearing a mask might have a medical problem that makes mask wearing difficult or impossible. I think it’s better to just give those people a wide berth rather than berating them.
I was still thinking about the subject of pandemic shaming last night, so I did more Googling and found an article on The Guardian by Poppy Noor about shaming that is going on in the United Kingdom. Noor writes that a few weeks ago, journalist Amelia Gentleman tweeted a photo of an apartment building where someone had posted huge posters shaming a neighbor for not socially distancing. The disgruntled neighbor was perturbed because “Ann” had been having people over and when she was asked to stop having company, refused to comply. So Ann’s neighbor decided to publicly shame her with the posters… which anyone passing could see, but as you can now see, has been picked up by the news.
Noor writes that most social distance and face mask shamers are simply trying to do the right thing. They see someone out and about with no mask on and feel the need to call them out, reminding them that they could be spreading the virus. But what if that person is a nurse or a grocery store clerk on the way to work? What if it’s someone making sure an elderly family member is getting food or medication? What if the person not wearing the mask has severe lung disease or anxiety and can’t wear the mask without panicking? And why is it any of your fucking business? Especially since, if you’re seeing these folks out and about, you’re probably out and about yourself. No one needs to be reminded about the coronavirus right now, anyway. I was actually kind of happy to read about the killer hornets yesterday, because it was a diversion from the 24-7 chatter about the virus… and Donald Trump’s moronic handling of the situation.
Personally, I haven’t had much of a problem staying holed up in the house. I seem to have a low need for socializing with people other than Bill and our dog, Arran. Not everyone is like me, though, and some people are starting to go a little crazy, especially as the weather improves. Some people want to go sit on the beach or play basketball because it’s good for their mental health. Mental health is also important. Without it, people become hopeless and despondent. They start drinking too much booze and entertaining thoughts of suicide. So I’m inclined to give people a break… and a wide berth when I see them outside with or without a mask. As Noor points out,
Take the case of a friend’s mother, who was recently reported to the police for making too many trips outside. She, in fact, was dropping off supplies to people who were sick and in isolation. Now she might feel less inclined to do so – but who cares, so long as whoever dobbed her in gets to post on social media about it?
Too much of that kind of thing will also cause people to be paranoid. I read another account of a couple in Australia who were fined because they were reported for posting pictures of themselves doing “non-essential” travel. But then it turned out that the photos were taken months before the coronavirus struck. From the article:
The husband and wife were fined the equivalent of $1,000 each by state police for “going for a drive to Lakes Entrance,” which was deemed a violation of the country’s strict lockdown.
The couple was warned that if they “posted any more photos,” they would “be arrested,”
The cops revoked the fine once it became clear that the pictures were a year old, although the wife had to contact the media to get the police to drop the citation. But that led people to wonder if the police were Facebook stalking the populace, looking for people to nab. Who turned them in to the authorities, anyway? That is a rather uncomfortable thing, isn’t it? Might make one not want to do much posting on social media or sharing of photos if it means the cops will show up on your doorstep with a citation, especially when they don’t have all the facts. It’s creepy as hell, too.
The police should have more important things to do than investigate this kind of thing. It’s a pretty shitty thing to do to someone during these stressful times, particularly if you don’t have all the facts. If someone is genuinely breaking the rules and actually causing trouble for you, that’s one thing– it’s appropriate to call the police in that case. But snitching on people who aren’t personally affecting you or calling them out based on erroneous assumptions is ugly behavior that causes more problems than it solves.
I did have one friend who wrote that she was upset about some things she’d been seeing. Even here in Germany, some folks are protesting. They aren’t bringing massive weapons like they do in the United States, but they are coming out en masse to complain about the measures enacted to slow the spread of the virus. Also, some people are defiantly throwing parties. I don’t have a problem with calling the authorities when something like that is happening that affects someone personally. But the group shaming, online nannying and nagging, and bold confrontations of strangers is counterproductive. Most people don’t react well when they’re shamed and policed by ordinary citizens, especially when the shamers are total strangers on the Internet. All it does is make them defensive and defiant.
So, at the risk of sounding preachy myself, knock it off, please. Live your life and do your part to stay healthy. Hopefully, your neighbors and the strangers on the Internet will do the same.