I’ll Have Some Public Shaming, Please!

Hetty Douglas, this week, took to an Instagram story to tell the world her opinion of two men in McDonald’s; suggesting that they looked like they had “1 GCSE”. This sparked understandable outrage amongst users of social media, and subsequent articles highlighting the massive class inequality in the U.K. were published; using Hetty Douglas as an examplar of middle and upper class culture bolstering themselves by insulting the working class.

The outrage firstly illuminates a huge contempt for working class individuals. Society as a whole has a disregard for people who do manual labour to earn a living, and Douglas played into this petty stereotype for a laugh. We all do dumb stuff sometimes, but there really is a difference between knocking someone’s drink over, and publicly deriding a group of people for sh*ts and giggles. (She’s since apologized for her hurtful comments on her website, and said that she’s written apologies to the people in the photos. You can read that here.) Also, a lot of the horror about Douglas’ post came from the assumption that she’s super duper posh. I reckon this assumption was made because she, a) is an artist, and b) played into the trend of middle to upper class people embracing working class culture when they want to whilst barely managing to cover up their deep disdain and visceral hatred for working class people. You know, where working class culture comes from. It appears that people with money seem to love Spoons and McDonald’s when they want cheap food or want to seem down to earth, yet would never dream of attending such establishments in a way that isn’t steeped in irony. Adidas tracksuits, acrylic nails, and hoops were signs of poverty and deprivation until they started to be donned by rich girls with large Instagram followings. These are the people who listen to Stormzy but would cross the street if they saw him.

I’m from a working class background – a mining city in the North of England – and have experienced every type of classism going. I’ve had people tell me to drop my accent if I want to be taken ‘seriously’. I’ve had teachers tell me in great detail just how unemployable I am. I’ve been told, like every kid from my estate, that I’ll never amount to anything. I’ve been literally judged on my postcode (if you didn’t know, in British schools your target grades are based on where you live. The poorer your estate is, the lower the target grade). Because I am from a poor estate, it is assumed that I’m unintelligent, can barely string a sentence together, and will end up just as washed up and poor as “everyone else like me”. Hetty Douglas’s comments, however humorously intentioned, added to this already huge pile of discrimination working class people already have to deal with.

But also, the outrage vented towards Hetty Douglas speaks to a ridicule of artists, and to our obsession with public shaming. The masses on Twitter and Instagram assumed that because Douglas is an artist, she’s never worked an honest day in her life and has been sponging off her parents. No one writing the tweets knew the truth of the matter – whatever that was and is; they simply assumed she’d never worked because of what subject she was studying at University. A lot of assumptions were made about Douglas based on her Instagram feed and bio. I’m not sure how much of a fair reading Twitter users would give me if they scrolled through my feed. We all know, because it’s been said a thousand times, just how much people’s Insta feeds are not based on their real lives. None of us knew, when she posted that picture, anything about her background, the contents of her bank account, the struggles she may have had to get to where she is… The list goes on.

Yet still, people made assumptions and value judgments, and hung her out on a line because of an apparent slight. She was publicly shamed, ridiculed, and bullied. And what’s terrifying is how justified people felt in their comments. This wasn’t anonymous messaging boards, these were people sending death and rape threats to someone with their public Twitter accounts.(She’s since deleted her Instagram due to all the hate mail she was receiving on the platform). Also, there didn’t seem to be any understanding of the consequences of their actions. The posters of such abusive tweets to anyone, never mind Douglas, seem to refuse to understand the accumulative effect that hateful comments can have; the snowflake never apologizes for the avalanche. I imagine that every single comment Douglas saw hurt her. Viscerally. Our brains process these messages of widespread rejection like actual physical pain, according to research. The hate Douglas received poses the question: do people deserve an internet shaming (despite the fact that public shaming as punishment was banned decades ago) when they post such thoughtless things? It seems that this public shaming – a good ol’ sesh of vilification on social media – is the new version of throwing rotting tomatoes at the criminal in the stocks. Who are the users of Twitter to be judge and jury on cases such as this? Who is anyone to be throwing rotten fruit at Douglas? Criticizers of Douglas were pointing and laughing at the speck in her eye without first interrogating the plank in their own.

This whole debacle is an almost Renaissance-esque painting; illustrating the gaping divide between the upper, middle, and working classes. Everybody turned towards Douglas to vent their outrage against the consequences of such an intrinsically violent class system, yet nobody went after the people sending her rape and death threats. Hetty Douglas did something thoughtless and unpleasant, but I truly hope that she’s had a good friend by her side this week as she was gutted by the social media world. We’re taking to social media to vent our annoyances that would be best kept in a diary or in the ear of a friend we can trust — not in the mailbox of a complete stranger. We keep mistaking our friendly little Twitter feed for people who care about us and trust us. It’s like reading out your darkest thoughts and feelings in front of a bunch of strangers.

But let’s not forget that while we sit and bicker amongst ourselves about who’s slagging off who, the bankers and politicians – the one’s who are actually screwing us over – are sitting and laughing. The class system that’s been created by the bourgeoisie isn’t Hetty Douglas’s fault. Her comments were offensive and frankly embarrassing. Her comments were the product of decades of subjugation of the working class. If we’re going to be horrified at anyone though, it should be the banks and the government, to be honest. You know, the ones who created this awful caste system we’ve got. And, we should be horrified at the people feeling justified to send Douglas rape threats.

It’s important to genuinely think before we decide who’s the next person in the stocks, or whether there should even be a person in the stocks in the first place. Regardless of how warranted we think such a punishment may be, it’s important to have a little compassion when we’re thinking about things like this, because we still don’t know what we’re doing with social media. We’re all very new to this, and don’t know how we’re going to think of how we use it now in 60 years. I reckon we’ll be horrified about all the times we decided someone was The Antichrist based on an out-of-context comment on an Insta story. I don’t really know what my conclusion should be. I just know that kindness and compassion are probably the way to go when we’re dealing with ignorance such as that exemplified by Douglas.

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I like feminism, socialism, and art with bad colour schemes. I am mainly found under a pile of books.

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