An Interview With The Creator Of Public Shaming

by Joseph Lamour

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I find it interesting what people think is completely normal to share publicly over the Internet.

I find it interesting what I think is completely normal to share publicly over the Internet. For some reason, in 2009, I thought it was completely fine to post several pictures of myself on Facebook rolling around a luxury hotel bed in a short, terry cloth robe.

The web is a hub for over-sharing nowadays, whether its racy pictures or racist statements. Lately, more and more people, famous or not, get called out for the things they say. This is where Public Shaming comes in.

Public shaming on the Internet is now more popular than ever. The boom in the usage of social media has heightened the way people express themselves, whether it’s asking their followers to help them choose a new pair of sunglasses, photographing what they ordered for dinner, or relating their thoughts on a current news story or hot-button issue. The unspoken etiquette of social media is loosening, and what results sometimes are some eye-opening statements; these statements  feed off of each other and have a tendency to escalate into unsavory situations. Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook have played a role in every big news story so far this year, but they also have aided in rampant misinformation.

In addition to the comments of the misinformed, the insensitive, rude, and racist things people say have been plucked from the Internet and spotlighted by sites like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, and even Time. But, is pointing out the bigotry of others in this way helpful, or is it harmful, town crier-esque entertainment?

With all of this in mind, I sat down for a chat with the creator of the aptly named Public Shaming, a blog whose sole purpose is to find problematic tweets and post them publicly for Internet posterity.

Screenshots of offensive tweets are under the cut. They all come with a **TRIGGER WARNING.**

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sure. I’m Matt Binder, a 26-year-old New Yorker. I work as a producer for The Majority Report—It’s Sam Seder’s podcast and online radio show.

How did the idea for Public Shaming come to you?

I’ve always been using Twitter to search things–it’s really an interesting tool. You can type any combination of words and all sorts of… [ridiculousness]… will come up. I’ve always been using it cause it’s just the best thing. I started following Weird Twitter, this subculture on Twitter who tweet strange things and use weird humor–basically using Twitter as a tool for comedy.

And, I saw one of them using Twitter search to find someone expressing an opinion, and then using another one of that user’s tweets to call them out on it, showing them that they’re being hypocritical. I thought that was an interesting way to go about [debating with someone], so I just started from there. I thought I should take screenshots just in case things were deleted.

I saw your first post you had 59 likes, but now you net about 2000 likes for each post. How many followers do you have?

Yeah, each post varies, but followers, I remember last week I did an interview with The Washington Post and they asked me that, too, and then I had 11,000. Now that’s completely wrong…I would say now I have about 22,500.

So eleven and a half thousand people followed you in the last week?

Pretty much, yeah. It’s taken off from the beginning. I only started posting in November, and within a week I hit 5,000 followers and then slowly started building from there. Then the Steubenville stuff happened, and it really took off.

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Going back to “hypocrite tweets.” Are those difficult to find or do you do those very often?

Those are my favorite to do, but they are harder than the other ones. I have to look through an entire timeline to find something relevant.

After you post a comment by a person on your site, do you often check the person’s Twitter or Facebook to see if they’re stuck with their viewpoint or changed their mind?

Uh–no, I don’t. I check through [each user’s] timeline—even if I’m not doing a post where I’m looking for a hypocritical follow-up post in their feed—I do check their feed to make sure I’m not missing some horribly placed sarcasm. My point is not to change these people, my point is to show first-time or regular readers that these people exist, and that they’re out there.

It appears that people have really strong opinions about the people who public shame, and wonder whether it’s ruining lives. In some cases, the person’s full name and picture appear on your site. What do you say to people who think that way?

They put their public information out there attached to those tweets, so they obviously didn’t care to make it private—it’s public; that information is out there. A lot of people don’t like how I don’t black out faces or names—but I don’t go out of my way to find people who post with their full name and picture.

If someone is using an alias, they obviously weren’t proud enough to put their real name next to what they were saying. I just keep everything as is. I don’t go out of my way to figure it out. But, I find it interesting that most of the people who end up [on my site,] 90% of them use their real picture and their real name.

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Some think websites like this actually add to the problem. For instance, in a Mashable article about online whistle-blowing, you’re mentioned. Actually, funnily enough, the article, by Todd Wasserman, is called “Social Media-Based Public Shaming Has Gotten Out of Control“:

“Constant access to social media has done some weird things to humanity. Our narcissism is off the charts, and with that comes a penchant for portraying ourselves as public crusaders.”

“Cataloging racist and ignorant tweets for public consumption has also become a blogging pastime. Yet the end result seems to be titillation rather than actual shaming. You read these tweets, and you feel better about yourself because you’re not one of those people.”

What’s your take on his viewpoint?

Social Media is another medium that people are using; if you’re tweeting something or putting up a Facebook post about something, the likelihood of you getting offline and being the complete opposite of the way you present yourself online are slim to none. Unless you’re purposefully trolling just for a response—and that, I actually take into consideration before posting a tweet. There are a lot of posts that I find, look into, and discover that the person is just trolling—I’m not going to give them attention.

But—who cares if someone is looking at the site and feels better about themselves? Good. Let that tweet reinforce that they’re doing the right thing by not being a jerk. I’m not a social crusader. But, there is social activism involved in [what I do]. Just look at comedians like George Carlin.

I see sometimes that you receive responses to your posts, how often does that happen?

I would do more of those posts if I didn’t receive so many messages on Tumblr—I can’t even catch up with them at this point. Most of them are supporters, but I get a few people who attack the site. My favorite people are people who call me a bully.

Has anyone ever asked you to take a post of his or hers down?

I remember one person specifically, but there have been two so far.

And what is your policy on that?

I don’t ever take anything down. Once it’s up there, it’s up there.

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Have you ever thought about posting an apology if you ever receive one? Not just a halfhearted apology, but, for instance, you receive a long, detailed email from someone who appears on your site apologizing, that they’ve found the error of their ways, and done 4 hours of volunteer service at a community center…would you post what they said?

If I was running a [more comprehensive] blog or website, I might—like, if I were doing what you guys at Racialicious are. But once I start doing that, it detracts from the main purpose of the site. Still, I highly doubt that will ever happen.

Do you ever receive any questions about the site from readers?

A lot of people ask me why I don’t post the links to the [Twitter profiles of] people I post, and if someone wants to—I see it happen. Someone looks at the screenshots, and finds the person on twitter, and there’s usually fifty to a hundred people calling this person an “idiot” or a “dumbass.” And if someone wants to do that…I’m not involved in that. People assume that’s the public shaming part of it, but I don’t really look at it like that—to me the site is like the “Hall of Shame.” It’s not to make readers go out and find these people online and do something on their own.

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Have you ever checked where in America these posts originate? Perhaps, in comparison to where more intolerance trends, for instance, in this country?

I don’t pay attention to that, really—but, let me explain why I started the Tumblr.

That was my last question, actually, so go ahead and explain why you created Public Shaming.

I like [that everyone has a different interpretation] about the blog, but I try to make the commentary fun to read in my posts, since I know what I’m posting isn’t exactly “fun.”  I try to make it funny…I get a lot of messages from readers that Public Shaming makes them so depressed, and if that’s your reaction, that’s fine—I’m all for people interpreting things how they want to, but depressing people is not my intent. What I’m trying to do, first and foremost, is to entertain people. I also hear from readers that, while they read it, [their reactions range from] laughing to crying, and these are reactions that are important to have because there is a social element to [reading my blog], but I don’t want people to focus only on that.

I understand it when people react that way, and I’m glad people have that reaction—but I add humor in my commentary to lighten the mood. I try to make it snarky and sarcastic—but, hopefully people will see this stuff and say, “That’s not how I want to be.”

  • http://twitter.com/screwdestiny screwdestiny

    I don’t use tumblr at all; however, I do follow a similar twitter @YesYoureRacist. I rarely respond to the people he retweets and I’ve considered unfollowing it altogether because of how irritated it can make me at people society in general and how dumb the people he retweets really are. But I never do because 1) it would feel like shutting off reality in favor of people’s carefully constructed IRL personas; and 2) the reactions from the people he retweets are really the best part. It’s funny seeing how easy people flip their tunes and start claiming victimhood where they were so big and bad before. Which yes, I guess is passive-agressive and self-righteous, but after reading some of the things that get written…it isn’t something I’ll ever feel bad about.

  • SuperHyugaYoshichan

    Yanno, maybe it is a good thing that other people can look up these tweets and chew these jerks out for it. It’s not like these viewpoints are easy to shake off just cause you shut your computer screen…

  • Elton

    You know, you don’t have to subscribe to Facebook or Twitter, despite what the corporate media tells you. This may come as a surprise to members of my generation, but they are OPTIONAL. The Internet has long been a place for freedom of expression, and that’s wonderful, but not until Facebook and Twitter has anonymity become so unfashionable.

    Even if you do choose to sell your privacy to one of these advertising databases, please remember that you have a choice in what you put out there about yourself. Not saying anything at all is often the smartest choice. If you have an interesting and original opinion you feel the urge to express, then by all means, say it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that not everything floating around in my head needs to be instantly published to the entire world with my real name and face and no way to take it back.

  • J M

    ‘My point is not to change these people, my point is to show first time
    or regular readers that these people exist, and that they’re out there.’

    Uh, no kidding, racist people say racist shit?! This is big news! Thank you so much, we’d never have known without you to tell us.

    I’m glad he’s not trying to change people, either. A lofty goal like that might take away time from his self-congratulatory back-patting.

    • Elton

      I much prefer a tumblr like http://microaggressions.tumblr.com/ where, instead of racists and bigots getting a voice with no critical analysis or opposing viewpoint, real experiences of real people are expressed and learned from.

      • J M

        I like that Tumblr too. It feels very different to hear it from people who were the targets of these comments: This is what was said to me, and this is how I felt when it happened. Unlike Public Shaming, which makes it seem like the bad guys are somewhere “out there” (as he says), in a separate place away from us where we can safely mock them from a distance… the Microaggressions Tumblr shows they’re not “out there”, in fact they’re “right here”, among us all the time, part of our daily lives. That’s why the presentation of it on Public Shaming really rubs me the wrong way.

      • Medusa

        I was a fan of microaggressions until this one post I saw turned into this disgusting mess of white, American, angry privilege. Quit submitting/commenting after that.

    • Tusconian

      To some people, it is news. I’ve complained to supposedly educated, understanding people about experiences of racism, sexism, etc. and had them insist it’s fringe lunatics, some fraction of a percent of people, or that I must be imagining it because “those attitudes” don’t exist anymore. A lot of people, for example, have been raised to be “anti-racist” by progressive, liberal parents, but were raised in such an insular environment that they think that ALL people are like them. Best case scenario, they get a huge wake up call or go into denial when faced with the fact that people like them can be subtly racist, since they generally think the only racists are 85 year old white Klan members in Mississippi. Worst case, they get angry and defensive and regress when nonwhite people call out racism. “My friend can’t be racist. He was raised like me! His parents were hippies and he has black friends! He didn’t use a racial slur or beat you up, so what he said to you must be you overreacting.” Which can quickly turn into “since all us white people have completely stopped being racist, it’s now THEM who are racist and over-sensitive when they complain!” Making sure people know that it’s a lot of people, and not just people who fit a stereotype, that hold bigoted or violent views, can be pretty important.