Public humiliation trends a setback for modern society

(Originally printed on March 24, 2015 in the Independent Florida Alligator Opinions page)

The sixth annual TEDxUF conference was held Saturday, and it was a chance to see the awe of TED Talks come to life right here on our own campus. Unfortunately, I did not manage to land a ticket. But, inspired by the availability of an event on campus so similar to the innovative presentations I used to watch every week, I went searching for some good TED Talks to watch.

TED Talks can be iffy occasionally; whenever a joke falls flat I fight the urge to cringe in sympathy, and sometimes what seems like the coolest topic ever turns out to be annoyingly dull. However, the other day I struck gold on a TED Talk — one that a lot of other people agree is monumental.

I was far too young to understand what the issue was when Monica Lewinsky became a household name in America, but since then, practically every U.S. citizen has become familiar with her story. Her recent TED Talk on the “culture of humiliation” that is turning pretty much all of us into horrible people brings a new perspective to her experience, and it’s something more people should listen to.

We scroll through click-bait articles on Facebook and Reddit all the time, usually just searching mindlessly for something to entertain us for five minutes or less while walking across campus or waiting in line for coffee. We click on links just to see what they are, just because we can, and often we don’t realize the impact it might have on whatever poor soul the “Shocking expose!” or “You won’t believe this!” headline is about. Lewinsky reminded us that, whatever you might think about the scandal surrounding her, the gross and ruthless humiliation she faced and the online attacks against her were early examples of what we now call cyberbullying and Internet harassment.

I believe journalism should continue to thrive and relentlessly work to keep the public informed. However, there is a massive difference between news journalism and the theft of private information and harassment that frequently accompanies low-level click-bait and scandal stories. Let’s keep our integrity…

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