• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


A Public Pause

Shaming of parents.

July 19, 2017

I’ve been fascinated by the amount of public shaming in parenting community Facebook accounts around the country. Most of these  groups, formed by parents and community members, start out as a well-meaning way to connect people, often mothers, but then end up turning into a source of contention.

The amount of drama has caused some to drop out, like this woman writing about why she quit these groups.Some groups in the New York City area have become filled with so much drama that they’ve become the subject of a New York Post article.

When I first moved to my town two years ago, I was delighted to find a Facebook group to be a source of much valuable information, from where to find someone to remove the snake in my yard, to what time the school bus shows up during a snow delay. Once I spent some time reading the Facebook pages, though, I’ve started to find it filling me with a little bit of fear.

I’ve watched so many people become “outed” for perceived bad behavior. Whether it is a worker at a local business who is unfriendly or rude, a restaurant that provides bad service, or a teenager who drives their car too fast in a residential zone, at any time someone can be “called out” by someone else who posts on the group page and thrust into the public eye -- whether they belong to the Facebook group or not. In fact, it prompts a variation of the cliched question: if someone posts about you in the online wilderness but you never know about it, did they still offend you?

Certainly, I can’t defend teenagers who nearly plow down small children while racing down the street, but I can sympathize with the parent of this teenager who is now being blamed for their child’s actions and implicitly labeled a bad mom (because, quite honestly, I don’t see fathers being called out as much as moms in these groups). In the past, your recourse to wrongdoing was to call the police or confront the person. Now, in less than a minute, you can create your own public humiliation spectacle for them.

In his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson examines people who had their lives torn apart publicly after achieving adverse notoriety, sometimes unintentionally and other times as a result of bad behavior. While the Facebook communities do not often reach the level of public attention that the people Ronson writes about have seen, within a small community even one posting to a large group of people is enough to publicly shame someone.

While I was thinking this over and considering opting out of the Facebook groups, I had an experience that made me reconsider. My husband and son traveled to Paris and accidentally left behind my son’s Epi-pens on a plane in London. Immediately, I posted a query on a Facebook group with a global audience. Within minutes, I received not only advice about how to procure this necessary medicine in Paris, but also offers of help, including a stranger who happened to be travelling to Paris that volunteered to pick up the lost medicine and meet my husband in Paris with it. This experience reminded me of how the Facebook groups can and do work at times, a helpful community of people virtually holding each other up.

I can’t blame the technology for the problems I’m seeing on these groups. Instead, I recognize the Faustian Bargain that my mentor Neil Postman said technology brings. A new technology gives to us, but it also takes something away. These Facebook groups have the potential to give parents a virtual community and new power, but used unwisely, they can isolate and place fear in people going about their daily lives. The technology doesn’t encourage people to pause before they post, but we can. And we should.


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