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December 1, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Bill Cosby and the power of internet shaming

One positive result of the recent attention to Ferguson, Mo., is that the news flowing out of that city drowned out stories about rape allegations against Bill Cosby in my social media feeds.

As much as I’m tired of seeing the proliferation of Cosby’s mug on Facebook and Twitter, the attention and internet shaming people showered on the scandal could end up creating more awareness and providing a platform for victims of sexual assault.

Bill Cosby in 2013. (Victoria Will/ AP)

Bill Cosby in 2013. (Victoria Will/ AP)

As in the case of Julia Marquand, a Seattle woman who posted a photo on Twitter of a man she’s says groped her near Westlake Park, police were initially not interested in pursuing the incident until after the photo went viral.

Marquand turned to social media after getting nowhere with the authorities. The man, who turned out to be a Level 3 sex offender, was charged with assault with sexual motivation, a gross misdemeanor.

Cosby’s alleged victims have also used social media to push their messages and stories, but since the statute of limitations has passed, Cosby does not face prosecution.

Victimhood is losing its stigma. Victims of various situations and abuse take to social media to tell their stories. People are no longer afraid to expose publicly what are probably some of their worst experiences. That takes courage. It’s also risky in that you never know how the world will react. Take for example the #gamergate backlash against proponents of making video games more inclusive of women.

Much of what we read online or on social media is unsubstantiated, rumor, an exaggeration of the truth or downright false. On top of that, some people go online solely seeking attention.

Even people who don’t want attention end up inundated, such as #Alexfromtarget, who became an Internet sensation for no discernible reason. People have threatened him and his family and even hacked their private information including their Social Security numbers.

Perhaps without mainstream media and social media attention to the Cosby scandal, most of the allegations would have remained the faint rumors they had been for many years.

It’s disturbing it took a Youtube video of a comedian criticizing Cosby to ignite the public outcry. (Watch the video here. Warning: it contains profanity).

Although multiple women accuse Cosby of rape, only one filed a civil lawsuit that was settled out of court. If Cosby is guilty of those crimes, then at least now his victims might feel some sense of justice thanks to social media.

But dialogue over social media often turns into more an echo chamber than a conversation. It is a lot easier to retweet, repost and essentially borrow thoughts, facts and opinions of others than to come up with an original statement.

As a vehicle for truth and justice, social media can be an effective tool, but it comes with dangers. It’s up to all of us to remember we’re people on these networks, not just profiles or users, who have the power to second-guess, analyze and proceed with caution.

Comments | Topics: Bill Cosby, Internet shaming, social media


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