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(Expert Feature) To “Out People” on Twitter or Not: The Ethical Side of Social Media

social media and shaming people publicly

Lately, a few incidents have occurred that question the morals and ethics of individuals who use Twitter to “out people”.

The question is, “Should people publicly ridicule, shame or call out customers, co-workers, friends or others for their bad behavior?”


Beverly Hills Restaurant Owner Calls Out Customers

The first story involves a Beverly Hills restaurant, Red Medicine, who’s owner became understandably upset when 20% of his reservations failed to show up. The owner, Noel Ellis, decided to publicly shame these customers in public tweets that include the names of no-shows.

The aftermath included both supporters and those who disapproved vehemently.

Articles by the LA Times,  New York Daily News and the Huffington Post, talk about the positive and negative reactions of readers and peers in the restaurant industry. Some customers even posted negative reviews on Yelp!– now there’s a reputation management project we’d love to get our hands on . . . 

Woman Publicly Shames Two Over Sexually Harassing Jokes

The second story involves a woman named Adria Richards, a now former employee of SendGrid who snapped a picture of two attendees at PyCon who were telling sexually harassing jokes while seated behind her in a conference session.

She tweeted the photo, including the conference hashtag. The attendees were fired from their jobs; Adria was fired from her job when the backlash brought her company’s website to its knees via a suspected hacking.

The question about whether or not the discussion between the attendees was sexual harassment has been discussed endlessly online and is not the topic of this article.

However, we are questioning Adria’s tweet that publicly identified and shamed the perpetrators.

Mashable posted a poll in their article on this very subject, asking people if they thought Adria should  have left out the photo and their identities.

The overwhelming response was “YES.”

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
by Lt. Col. Carlos A. Keasler, U.S. Army, Retired in his book, “Lest We Forget”


Does Publicly Shaming People Make Sense?

One must ask whether or not publicly shaming people makes sense.

Before social media, the proper process for reporting inappropriate behavior was to report it privately to a superior or to Human Resources.

In a public situation such as a conference, speaking with the conference organizers privately would probably be the most appropriate way to handle a delicate situation.

In the case of the restaurant owner, since the restaurant collected phone numbers, the appropriate action would have been to simply call people to see if they were okay and whether or not they planned to show up.

Why does social media make us drop all the rules of etiquette, proper process of reporting and the morals and ethics of humankind simply to shame people publicly?

What do you think?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

We’d love to hear from you.


Photo by Sudhamshu

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About Melanie Yunk (50 Articles)
Melanie Yunk, President, Roaring Pajamas Melanie Yunk started working as a social media and search engine optimization consultant early in 2009, when she founded Roaring Pajamas, a digital marketing agency in Northern California. Melanie is passionate about helping businesses market their products and services online. She brings more than 20 years of marketing, engineering and content experience to clients from various industries, including search engines, construction, retail, B2B, wholesale, heavy duty trucks, authors and more. Melanie previously founded Melanie's Fine Foods after purchasing Big Acres® Gourmet Sauces where she expanded the line to be distributed nationwide and in Canada. She also founded Yunk Consulting where she assisted software and semiconductor companies in implementing international standards for electronic databooks that she also helped developed while working at Intel Corporation. Her earliest career began at Honeywell Commercial Flight Systems where she worked on the Boeing 777 and MD11 cockpit projects. She continues to write on the Roaring Pajamas Blog and also as a guest blogger writing about all natural and gourmet foods. Melanie volunteers as a Board Member for the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce and former President of the Advisory Board for the Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto. She lives in San Carlos with her husband Kent and two Cornish Rex cats.

4 Comments on (Expert Feature) To “Out People” on Twitter or Not: The Ethical Side of Social Media

  1. It’s that whole arm’s-length phenomenon, I think. The extra layer of removal makes it a lot easier to be aggressive/vengeful. Good post.

  2. I agree with Hillary. Do we really think that just because it is easier to use social media, do the app being on our phones and readily available, that we can just vent when upset? We think, “no one important will see it anyway”. This example and new etiquette challenges will be with us for as long as we come out with new ways to communicate.

    I try not to roll my eyes each time I read about a new story about how we abuse a communication platform.

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