This paper advances privacy theory through examination of online shaming, focusing in particular on persecution by internet mobs. While shaming is nothing new, the technology used for modern shaming is new and evolving, making it a revealing lens through which to analyze points of analytical friction within and between traditional conceptions of privacy. To that end, this paper first explores the narrative and structure of online shaming, identifying broad categories of shaming of vigilantism, bullying, bigotry and gossiping, which are then used throughout the paper to evaluate different angles to the privacy problems raised. Second, this paper examines shaming through three dominant debates concerning privacy—privacy’s link with dignity, the right to privacy in public places and the social dimension of privacy. Certain themes emerged from this analysis. A common feature of online shaming is public humiliation. A challenge is to differentiate between a humbling (rightly knocking someone down a peg for a social transgression) and a humiliation that is an affront to dignity (wrongly knocking someone down a peg). In addition, the privacy concern of shamed individuals is not necessarily about intrusion on seclusion or revelation of embarrassing information, but rather about the disruption in their ability to continue to participate in online spaces free from attack. The privacy interest therefore becomes more about enabling participation in social spaces, enabling connections and relationships to form, and about enabling identity-making. Public humiliation through shaming can disrupt all of these inviting closer scrutiny concerning how law can be used as an enabling rather than secluding tool.
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