Nonmaleficence in Shaming: The Ethical Dilemma Underlying Participation in Online Public Shaming

Chen Pundak, Yael Steinhart*, Jacob Goldenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We show that a decision of potential shamers to take part in (“share” and “retweet”) an online shaming campaign against alleged wrongdoers is shaped by two factors: the potential shamer’s level of adherence to the nonmaleficence principle (i.e., do no harm) and the wrongdoer identifiability (the extent to which a wrongdoer’s details are exposed). Each shaming campaign may promote social norms and prevention of similar harm (i.e., positive consequences) and yet at the same time create harm for the individual wrongdoer being shamed (i.e., negative consequences). We suggest that potential shamers with high adherence to the nonmaleficence principle are more likely to join a shaming campaign with a low-identifiability wrongdoer compared to potential shamers with a low endorsement of the nonmaleficence principle. We term this phenomenon the Nonmaleficence in Shaming effect. Five studies consistently demonstrate this effect and its attenuation in the case of a shaming campaign with a high-identifiability wrongdoer. We further show that what drives the effect is advancing the positive over the negative consequences of a shaming campaign. Our findings contribute to a better understanding of norm-enforcement behavior in digital communications and the social media space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-500
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Consumer Psychology
Volume31
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Ethics and morality
  • Online consumer behavior
  • Social media and social networks

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