The Ethics of Public Shaming

I came across an article today about an instance of public shaming and its backlash in the tech industry.  There is something about this story that bothers me, so I’m going to try to spell out exactly what.  It’s connected to my experience of  conversations about public shaming within philosophy as a profession.  I’m hoping people who have thought longer and harder about this than I have will chime in.

Here’s the story of Donglegate from the annual Python developer conference.  Here’s a follow up piece about the reactions to this incident.

The Crowd at PyCon with the two jokers. Photo taken by Adria Richards.

Here are my (underdeveloped) thoughts on public shaming and the ethics of using it to combat hostile environments:

When it comes to holding people accountable for their actions in a community, our uncertain knowledge of others’ action is a big morass–one that I want to leave to the side for right now.  In the articles I’ve linked to, there is a big issue that goes beyond uncertainty as to whether something inappropriate did occur.  PyCon was relatively certain the men in the audience did something inappropriate, since it reprimanded them.  The men in the audience pretty much admitted they did something inappropriate, since they apologized and promised to alter their future behavior.  But given that relative certainty, PyCon and others have still said that Richard’s use of public shaming was an inappropriate response to overhearing inappropriate jokes.  (I believe, regardless of whether such shaming had led to anyone getting fired or not.)

In short, PyCon and Ars Technica seem to be making the following argument: While there is indeed a hostile atmosphere for women in the programming field, publicly shaming two men on twitter for making sexually offensive jokes at a programming conference was uncalled for, overkill, and a violation of their privacy.

I disagree.

(more after the jump)

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University campaigns against sexual assault

In the past year, campaigns against sexual assault on college campuses have produced an informal national network of activists who, while sometimes turning for advice to established advocacy groups, have learned largely from one another. They see the beginnings of what they hope is a snowball effect, with each high-profile complaint, each assault survivor going public, prompting more people on more campuses to follow suit.

For more, go here. (Thanks, S!)

Sexual harassment: looking beyond definitions and institutional remedies

There’s been an excellent discussion of sexual harassment over at Leiter. Lots of people have rightly been pointing to a lack of information about what constitutes sexual harassment, and about the nature of legal and institutional procedures. This is all deeply important. However, I think focussing just on these issues is a mistake. In fact, I’ve just finished a paper arguing for this. I won’t try to argue for it in a blog post, but you can read the paper here if you feel like it!

Demonising the poor

The current UK government has done much to demonise the poor. As it continues to make changes to the welfare state, which leave many of the poorest in society worse off, it behoves us to question what we are told. A report issued by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland, and the United Reformed Church does just that. There is more information and suggestions about how to challenge ideas about poverty availale from their website.

Infographic from the Joint Public Issues website.