How Our Digital Lives Are Defined by Shame


Digital Assume you open Facebook and notice an alert. You click, and to your dismay, you realize that someone has tagged you in an extremely nasty photo. That tag is sinister because it implies that if someone searches the internet for you or anyone else tagged in that photo, or for anything else relevant to the event you were attending, that cringe-worthy image will appear. It adheres to your identity and drags it along with it, like a piece of toilet paper on a shoe.

Only the most visible pain is accounted for by the suffering we inflict on others via digital shame machines, frequently without even realizing it. The most widespread abuses are designed to go away on their own. A poison that was once solely the stuff of science fiction is already appearing in today’s headlines because of the rapidity with which it is evolving. For example, Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel, Super Sad True Love Story, depicts a futuristic world in which massively open data is the norm and humiliation lurks around every corner. When characters walk past a “credit pole” in the neighborhood, their credit scores are displayed on a public display. The advanced telephones, or äppäräts, can detect each passerby’s net worth and financial history. If a person in a pub cracks a bad joke, their “hotness” and “personality” scores decrease in real-time.

Abuses similar to this are already on the rise, particularly in China, where official surveillance is carried out with little restraint. Various government-approved social credit scores have been established, some of which penalises those who are caught smoking or playing too many video games in a no-smoking area.

Others utilize AI-enabled cameras that can identify people based on a mix of face traits, posture, and motion. So, if someone is walking to work and is caught jaywalking, the smart camera may tag the offender’s name and personal information and display it on a digital billboard. Similarly, you could be fined for trash in the subway or defaming the ruling party online. Weibo and WeChat, two of the most popular websites in China, may also be able to publicize your violations of the law by your name.

Regardless of where we reside, some of us fare significantly better than others in our interactions with the developing network that connects data to shame and stigma. The easiest individuals to abuse are the most desperate, those who lack the money, knowledge, or leisure time to care for the digital baggage that follows them, or simply those who have been treated unfairly in the past.

In this group of people, most of them are poor or have been left out. They don’t have much say in how they look or who they are. Shame machines can define and poison their lives: the diet industry, drug merchants, for-profit jails, welfare bureaucracy, and so on. Those machines continue to pound on them.

The digital economy, on the other hand, has given shame a second chance. Evictions, run-ins with child protective services or the authorities, and trips to casinos all leave rich information trails, creating a gold mine for the numerous entities that feed on shame data.

These extend far beyond social networks into the official economy of credit rating companies, mortgage brokers, and parole boards, as well as a veritable who’s who of charlatans and con artists. Digitized, codified, and then analyzed by hundreds or thousands of algorithms, the most shame-inducing occurrences are used to make money from the people involved, deny them of chances, and frequently permanently.