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 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.
(more after the jump)