Monica Byrne vs Bora Zivkovic

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Despite the title I actually want to focus on Andrew Maynard, a man who knows neither Monica or Bora yet he has become a focal point in the online discussions of this particular naming and shaming event.

But first lets start with a little context and explain the relationship between the namesakes of this post. On the 9th October 2012 Monica, without naming names, wrote a post on her blog detailing her experience of sexual harassment from a potential (hoped to be) business associate. Click here for a link to the post. You’ll notice that almost exactly a year later on the 14th of October 2013 Monica amended the post to include the name of the man: Bora Zivkovic. Zivkovic is or rather was the Blogs Editor for ‘Scientific American’ which at the time of Monica’s amendment was receiving unwanted publicity and the derision of internet users for deleting a post by Dr Danielle Lee. The subject matter: being on the receiving end of sexual harassment from a potential business associate….. sound familiar? No doubt Monica felt an affinity with Dr Lee, and despite stating that she does not know of any involvement of Bora in Lee’s case the connection between Bora and ‘Scientific American’ surely impacted her response. If Bora had never worked for ‘Scientific American’ would Monica have responded to Lee’s post removal by naming Bora. I think not. Monica’s amendment while being driven by emotions triggered by relatability, could also be seen as strategic, the power of naming is strengthened by the infamy of Lee’s circumstances. Monica is presenting her case to an already primed and angered internet audience, and while the saying may be “there’s safety in numbers” we could also say there is credibility. It is not as easy to pass off one instance of bad behaviour when there are two. The internet enables the two to be brought together, to be linked to one another and presented to the masses side by side.

So Andrew Maynard…. who’s he? what’s he to do with this?

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Another blogger and another post, personally I think it’s a must read! Click Here or Here …yep I created two links that’s how much worth a read I think it is. At this point we can put Monica and Bora aside, what I love about this post is:

“The incident has got me thinking afresh about the responsibility that comes with being part of an online community without walls.  And specifically, I’m left with the following questions:

  • When is it OK to name and shame online – on any issue?
  • When is it appropriate to support someone else’s outrage because it appears to fit your worldview? And
  • For science communicators, when is it OK to draw strong conclusions in the face of scant evidence?”

“An online community without walls” -there isn’t anyway to protect ourselves from what is put out there, there’s no way to contain or prevent people from doing damage, and we can’t restrict access to these things. We rarely concern ourselves with these thoughts when naming and shaming occurs because ‘they deserve it’ and ‘people need to know the truth’. True Andrew made some mistakes; like a commenter said the harasser’s marriage is not the victims responsiblity, the harasser chose to act in a way that would damage it, so she shouldn’t not name him lest Bora suffer in anyway. But then again at the time Andrew wrote this the online community had not be provided with all the details. Andrew was right to question the naming and shaming, within the online culture there is such permanence, and such a readiness to persecuted with great strength and great numbers that the impact on an innocent or undeserving man would have been astronomical. Mind you, turns out he (Bora) did deserve it. But that raises the question did Andrew Maynard deserve the wealth of negativity, criticism and damage to his reputation? Wasn’t he just weary because he understood the weight of being named and shamed online, knowing a decision to join in without proper evidence in light of having no personal experience unwise.

The ways in which digital media is used to prime us for the accusations we hear in name and shames is multitudinous, from omissions and exaggerations in content to the very presentation of how it is presented. For example I could have chosen any image from a number of pictures to identify Monica, Bora and Andrew BUT I chose specifically.

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This beautiful image contains warm inviting friendly colours, and as silly as it may sound the light shining down on Monica makes her appear almost angelic. Looking heavenward could be interpreted as vulnerable, humble even innocent. This all paints Monica as someone we like, someone we trust……someone whose side we would take, someone we might get angry on behalf of.

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In contrast the picture of Bora contains cold colours, and barriers have been put up between us and him in the simple form of sunglasses, we aren’t supposed to connect with him. Someone we can easily make the bad guy.

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Then finally we have Andrew who has a look of regret. This is a guy who didn’t say all the right things but we can see he’s sorry for that. I guess  could even get quite poetic about it and say choosing a black and white photo demostrates his desire to seek truth and distinguish accurately what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong…… Heck lets build on that and say the presence of grey shows that no matter how hard we try to find the right we will do wrong. Right intentions, wrong actions thats a grey area.

Maybe you didn’t think about the images when you saw them, maybe you don’t see what I described. But there is no doubt that on a subconscious level these pictures played a part in forming your opinions of these people. When the images are put side by side there is no doubt Monica is the Good, Bora the Bad and Andrew the Ugly….. ok not that last part. But you get the picture … ha … digital communication is more than just text. Therefore the visual, both obvious and subtle is also a tool of digital media to be utilized in naming and shaming.

If we consider as Andrew says we ought before naming and shaming someone who has personally wronged us, we might realise once it has been put online we are no longer in control of our revenge. We can’t turn off the responses of internet users once our desire for justice or punishment is satisfied. Online naming and shaming once it gains a little bit of momentum lasts forever, it’s very difficult to achieve penance or redemption. 20years from now when the person you called out is applying for a job, the employer will most likely google their name to see if anything will stand out and that information will still be there.

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