UW-W professor Jo Ann Oravec speaks about ‘online shaming’


Garrett Kluever, Biz and Tech Editor

Interview is based on Professor Jo Ann Oravec’s paper titled “Online Shaming and Scoring as Genres: Implications of Writing Programs” which she presented at the University of Florida’s Pedagogy, Practice and Philosophy Conference on Jan. 27

What are some platforms that are used for online shaming, specifically education?

Any set of comments on nearly any online platform can be a part of online shaming. A very simple example would be someone posting that another person’s remarks are “stupid.” Many universities have “rumor” sites in which online shaming is very common. Students can speak up and complain if they see some else being shamed because it affects the quality of their online experience as well as affecting their fellow students’ wellbeing.

Shaming by corporations and non-state agents are mentioned. Are these forms of shaming becoming more common compared to regular online shaming?

Online shaming has been a part of the means through which corporate practices concerning worker mistreatment and sweatshops are “named and shamed.” Sometimes these shaming efforts by human rights groups can be effective, respectful, and meaningful.

What are the long term effects of online shaming? Does it affect one group in particular and if so, in what way?

Online shaming provides a chilling effect, as outlined in my research. Shaming is especially dangerous in the early stages of individuals’ careers when it dissuades them from learning the skills that would make them more effective in public discourse.

Let’s take the perspective of a college student, how could these phenomena affect them?

Students should be alert to criticisms of their work from peers who are especially negative without providing specific suggestions or recommendations for change.

How has your perspective of practices online and person changed by researching shaming mediums and techniques?

I have become more sympathetic to those who are the targets of severe criticisms. I am less critical of people who refuse to speak up on important matters because of fear, and far more admiring of those who do indeed speak up.

What are ways to curb this from happening to regular people also academic professionals?

People who send in letters to the editor or who post comments in public policy or academic platforms are generally very brave and helpful individuals with ideas they want to share.  Newspapers and online platform providers should make it very clear in their FAQs and in the descriptions of their purposes that excessively negative critiques without cogent rationales are not welcome. If the critiques have threats of violence the police should be involved.