John Oliver explored how the internet has fueled the phenomenon of “public shaming” in a segment on Last Week Tonight.
“This is a golden age of internet shaming,” Oliver explained. “You’ve probably participated in it if you’ve ever been mad at a potential Oscar host with shi**y tweets, a company who made a blackface shirt, a beloved Irish actor who wanted to commit some racist murder, an aquarium that called an otter thick, a gender reveal party that started a wildfire, whoever attacked Jussie Smollett, whoever didn’t believe Jussie Smollett and finally… Jussie Smollett. We’re basically goldfish, except instead of discovering a new castle in our bowl every nine seconds, we find something new to be outraged about online.”
Not all internet shaming is unmerited however, said Oliver, bringing up the example of last week’s Tucker Carlson outrage: “I would argue that Tucker is actually a good example of an internet pile-on being merited. He’s a public figure, he made his comments publicly, they are appalling and he’s standing by them.”
Finally, Oliver interviewed Monica Lewinsky, whom he said “might actually be the perfect person to remind all of us what the consequences can be to a mis-directed flood of public anger.”
Added Oliver: “When millions of people all feel the need to weigh in, and potentially for years, the punishment can be vastly disproportionate to the offense.”
Oliver pointed to Jay Leno, the author of a disproportionate amount of jokes targeting the former Clinton White House intern.
Lewinsky told Oliver: “I do think there’s a spectrum of behavior on which we can sort of judge, as a society, ‘Is this where shaming is effective to change social behavior, or is it damaging?’”
She spoke of her own experience: “It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation, and obviously I could not have gotten through it without my family and eventually, when I was allowed to talk to my friends, too. . . At 24 years old, it was really hard to hold on to a shred of dignity or self esteem when [I was] just the butt of so many jokes and being misunderstood.”