Has the internet killed our feelings of compassion?
Has the internet killed our feelings of compassion?

I couldn’t take my eyes off the undulating bottom in front of me.

The woman ahead was sporting a pair of PVC leggings; her super-sized bottom looked like a bag of desperately trying to escape ferrets. She wore sky-scraping heels and a top displaying acres of cleavage.

Her outfit looked more befitting to a nocturnal sex worker than one suitable for the supermarket, but hey, each to their own. I had a quiet admiration for her individuality. She was displaying her wares loudly and proudly, it was an admirable case of deviance at what anyone else thought of her for being a larger lady.

What wasn’t very admirable however, was the two young women videoing her backside on their phones as she walked before them. These women were practically hysterical with laughter. They weren’t teenage girls they were women in their mid twenties. Their cruelty shocked me. I squirmed uncomfortably pulling my coat down over my bottom for fear of my own backside going viral.

In this Big Brother society we now frequent, privacy seems to be a thing of the past. Goodness knows what those women would do with their footage; Mrs Ferret-Bottom could be trending on YouTube by tea time whilst remaining blissfully unaware that her generous backside is famous on several continents.

The culture for humiliation these days is shocking, especially to people like myself who grew up in an internet free era. People make themselves judge and jury posting footage online, like latter day biblical stone throwers. Headlines this week detailed the shaming of a 26-year-old woman in New Zealand who was filmed romping on a desk at her office with her 50-year-old married boss.

The videoing was done by patrons of a bar across the road from the office window; the footage was posted on Facebook which was then watched by millions worldwide. It’s all very titter-worthy for some but can you imagine the devastation caused to these people, not to mention their families?

The man’s wife found out he was having an affair by seeing this footage on Facebook. The couple have two teenage children. Compassion has to be felt for the innocent family members involved. The woman featured in the video has left New Zealand and moved back to her native England, mortified by the global exposure of the tawdry tryst. Of course many will say it was their own fault for romping at a window and will take the view that they deserve no sympathy because he’s a married man. That footage will be permanently accessible, and for each time someone clicks to view it, profit will be made from these people’s shame. Victims have been known to commit suicide after being publicly humiliated on the net.

Arguably the first person to be publicly shamed on the internet was Monica Lewinsky. The story of her affair with the then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, broke in January 1998 online, it was the first time the net beat news programmes to a story.

Monica became the punchline for many tawdry jokes, her telephone conversations, taped by a fairweather friend where listened to by millions. The saga concluded with Clinton being impeached. For Lewinsky the scrutiny and shame almost ended in her death, as she admitted she had strong suicidal temptations during and after her time in the spotlight.

After years of silence Monica is now back in the public eye. Her reappearance is nothing to do with politics, this time she is trying to raise awareness about cyber bullying and online harassment. Hoping to help victims of internet shaming, Monica is speaking out about what it’s like to be at the vortex of an internet maelstrom. She hopes to be able to give a purpose to her past by helping others who suffer public humiliation.

Anyone can be a victim of public shaming these days, whether it is for an unguarded moment of illicit passion or simply having a large bottom and questionable dress sense. We can be virtually stoned to death in cyberspace when someone posts us onto the internet’s permanent public stockade. The net seems to be making us desensitised to feeling compassion.

It’s alright when it’s happening to someone else, but how many of us would like a permanent reminder of our past mistakes to be at the fingertips for anyone to repeatedly view? Lewinsky made a valid point in ending her recent speech about the cruel culture of humiliation when she remarked; ‘Imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline’.