The Shame Game

"That doesn’t mean shaming will always have the intended effect. There’s always a chance the public won’t latch onto a given case. And even if officials wanted to maximize the amount of shame, they don’t always know how to leverage social media and PR to rack up millions of views. However, unlike public shaming spurred on by private, often anonymous, individuals, shaming that’s sanctioned by law enforcement has “a whole other imprimatur of credibility,” said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who studies online harassment. It’s a clear signal for media outlets and private citizens to pile on, all in the name of the public good, which Citron sees as a threat to the foundational principles of our legal system. “The reason that we have law is to take it out of the hands of the mob, the Hobbesian nightmare,” she said. “The point of procedural due process is to get the greatest chance of an accurate result.” Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, added, “It’s effectively law enforcement anointing themselves as judge, jury, and public shamer.”

Individuals have since brought similar suits forward in state courts, but they’ve often had difficulty winning. To sue the government successfully, it’s not enough to claim your reputation was damaged. You have to prove there was some kind of material damage, which can be hard to quantify, explained Citron. “It’s tough to prove the job you don’t get, the people who Google you and never tell you that you’re not considered.”"