While intolerance toward bigotry has its place, online crusader culture is now so vigilant that people have begun to wonder about its motivations.
As Jon Ronson writes in The New York Times, “in those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.”
Much of the lambasting that takes place online is a matter, not of clean conscience, but public performance. The village may be global, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, but like all villages this one is full of gossips, shamers, and rubberneckers.
“The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her perceived bigotry but also a form of idle entertainment.”
The outrage people express seems to stem less from authentic offense than from the need to reassure others (and congratulate themselves) that they stand on the “right” side of things. Perhaps most of all, people are afraid that if they don’t speak out they’ll be next in line at the whipping post.