Can You Social Shame Without an Instagram?

By Sarah MacKenzie

Over the last couple of months the Denison community has undergone changes that perhaps compare to no other time in Big Red history. However, the size and demographic of the student population has remained relatively the same and so has the drama that comes with it. Now instead of being shamed for your latest wild evening or weekend shenanigans, you are shamed for not wearing a mask. As Siobhán Mitchell discussed in a 127 post, this shaming was happening publicly on Instagram towards the beginning of the semester. Now, because the instagrams have been taken down, the social shaming is one of the only things taking place not on Zoom.

Most of the reported shaming has been occurring down at the Mitchell Center in the Denison sports world. Teams are expected to adhere to the guidelines just like everyone else but it seems that the athletes are being held to a higher standard, not necessarily by the school but actually by each other. Throughout the semester, team camaraderie has been interrupted by keeping each other accountable and, for some, instilling fear into the individual athletes’ day-to-day living. Because this idea has spread throughout the grapevine of Denison social life, 127 wanted to ask the students how they actually felt about shaming their peers on coronavirus related issues.

Reflecting on Siobhán’s work, we wanted to see what the student population thought about using Instagram as a platform for social shaming. In the survey we asked whether people agreed or disagree with this statement, “Social media posts showing those who violate social distancing and mask wearing guidelines is a good practice that I support” (emphasis in the survey). The majority of students (57%) disagreed, 26% strongly, with the route that individuals were taking to shame using social media.

Given the pressure on varsity athletes, I’d expect them to react more negatively to the idea of social shaming. And that’s just what the results show. While most group types on campus are not very different from each other (averaging about “somewhat disagree”), varsity athletes clearly stand out. They’re not unanimous, but they do express more disagreement than others with social media shaming, averaging closer to “disagree.” At the other end of the spectrum are members of social justice orgs and campus governance representatives, who are divided in their opinions about social shaming (averaging about “neither”).

Then we looked at what the motivations behind social distancing are in the first place. It was clear that people don’t really care about social shaming – it consistently had the lowest rank score of any of the reasons. Instead, they are much more worried about actually contracting COVID-19 or getting kicked off campus. But, maybe these differences are just apparent because these people are actually following the rules. So, we took the time to see if the people that perhaps have a different opinion aren’t actually following the restrictions set in place by the university.

The whole idea here was to see if a student had fewer friends social distancing, then they would be more likely to disagree with social shaming. That is, we’re doing a bad over here and don’t think we should be called out for it. The results are consistent with this idea – disagreement with social shaming grows as rule following among their friend group drops. That relationship is a bit stronger for men than women. While not extremely revealing, perhaps the gender difference suggests that men would rather have a face to face shaming interaction than on the screen. But maybe the more important reason for disagreement with social shaming is linked to rates of compliance. Most all students are following the guidelines most all of the time, so any social shaming could be construed not as capturing normal behavior but as an isolated incident. Regardless, it is clear that students do not approve of shaming when they and their friends are mostly following the guidelines.

Prior to the number of cases increasing in the last two weeks and when Denison social distancing was by and large working, students did not agree with the shaming happening on Instagram. However, now that the cases have increased maybe the shaming will get more serious. Perhaps the rumors about athlete shaming will not stop at the borders of the Mitchell Center and will travel up the hill to affect non-athletes.

Sarah MacKenzie is a senior Political Science major from Denver, Colorado. If she is not talking about climate change she is urging the people around her to vote in the 2020 election.

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