Further thoughts on shaming schools

August 10, 2016

I have been writing a series of posts about schools being publicly ‘shamed’ in the press and on social media.

The last three posts were pretty much just descriptive, explaining what being shamed is like, but controversy has followed them. The most common responses have been:

  • Arguing over what counts as a ‘shaming’ or ‘witch hunt’ rather than legitimate debate or criticism;
  • Claiming I am attacking free speech;
  • Deducing some implicit “rules of conduct” from my posts and then objecting to them.

I will respond to these points here.

My choice of the word “shaming” was largely a result of listening to and reading several interviews with Jon Ronson after he wrote a book on the subject of online shamings (which I haven’t yet read). I think the term “shaming” is entirely appropriate for the situation where there is large scale disapproval by thousands of individuals aimed at one, or a small number, of individuals. It’s not how I’d describe any and all criticism of anyone, but if the targets are few; the rage great, and the numbers joining in are large, then it really is not a debate and I think this is a fair way to describe it.

As for the other term, I’ve blogged about Twitter “witch-hunts” before. This phrase is the best way I know of describing a situation where accusations are thrown about, but the targets of the accusation either cannot defend themselves (for instance if they have been forced off of social media) or if any defence will be considered to confirm the original accusation or justify new ones.

Both terms describe a situation where there is no debate, little regard for context or opportunity for mitigation, just anger being directed at individuals who have limited scope for doing anything about it. Because these situations, force people off of social media denying them free speech, I really don’t feel that suggesting we all try to avoid creating such situations is an attack on free speech; it’s an attempt to protect it.

Finally, have I implicitly set rules for how people should behave?

To be fair, I think my views on the journalism that has started some of these ‘shamings’ are clear. I would want journalists to avoid the following:

  • reporting the views of a minimal number of disgruntled parents (often just one) as “news” about a school;
  • naming individuals, particularly children, where it is not in the public interest;
  • one-sided and biased reporting;
  • sensationalism.

However, I don’t propose any mechanism to enforce any of this. I’m just saying I’d expect journalists with any integrity to try to avoid those things.

But when it comes to how people should behave on social media, I really can’t think of any hard and fast rules. I am the last person on earth to advocate refusing to criticise schools. I am also hardly likely to suggest that social media is not a good way to whistle blow when things are going on in schools that the public should be aware of. But I do not think a hate campaign achieves anything other than to silence debate. And, at the very least, we can all consider the possible consequences of criticising.

In my next post I will discuss what we might want to consider before criticising a school or a teacher on social media.



  1. I have to say that, whilst the initial actions of the ‘unnamed’ school are definitely worthy of debate, the consequences that you’ve outlined of this becoming mainstream news have been downright disgusting, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of such aggressive, primitive vitriol.

    Thank you for putting such effort into trying to bring this to the fore and focus-in on how continued open debate can be had in the public sphere about specific events (well, at least via Twitter & the blogosphere – if not national press), without such animalistic mauling ensuing. I am glad that the school has found a way to have its perspective represented via giving you access to all these various communications. Engaging directly with such a mob would likely result in God-knows-what…

  2. I would hope that the raw, naked hatred displayed in Twitter shamings speaks for itself. It is almost impossible to avoid concluding that those responsible for such outbursts are very nasty people, much given to bullying.

    Knowing the target of this particular round of outrage (as I’m sure we all do), I am confident that they will rise above it and go from strength to strength. No doubt their abusers understand this, however dimly, and that is what scares them. People don’t resort to this kind of primitive outrage unless their belief systems are collapsing, and they have no rational arguments to support them.

  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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