【明報專訊】A FEW MONTHS AGO, I posted a photograph of myself on Instagram. I was quite fond of it as I had just learned how to create four of me sitting together through the visual tricks of the photoshop app. But what I did not anticipate (預料) was that I got many comments of friends and strangers ''reminding'' me that I had to observe social distancing rules, because the four ''me's'' were seen sitting quite close to one another. It was all a good joke, of course. Yet this incident has been part of what has been called ''social media shaming'' related to what should and should not be done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social media has become a space where community norms are being monitored, and this applies not only to the pandemic situation. Yet the pandemic leads to more intense (劇烈) social norm checking because people are more eager — or even desperate — to get everyone to adhere to the norms of protection and safety when the enforcement of those norms through official channels is weak or confusing. One of the examples of social media shaming is ''travel shaming''. Over the past months, if you managed to travel in spite of the travel restrictions or if those restrictions have somehow been eased in the places you travelled to, would you post the travel photos on social media? If you do so, you may receive hostile (充滿敵意的) comments expressing anger or envy that you had somehow enjoyed non-essential travel. They think it is not fair, because you are seen as someone who did not make the same sacrifice as they did.
In May, Dominic Cummings, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief political adviser, travelled 260 miles with his family to stay near their relatives when his wife developed COVID-19 symptoms. It caused a major public outcry. And in early September, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was filmed on security cameras walking through a hair salon, her hair freshly washed, with no mask. The scene went viral on social media and in the news, and quickly set off a political firestorm.
How effective is social media shaming? In some instances, people may come to realise the mistake of not wearing a mask in public or attending a big social event with lots of people around. But people may also feel annoyed at how the ''social critics'' are trying to tell them how to live their lives. When some countries are cautiously reopening their borders, and when you go travelling again while others are still stuck where they are, how will you choose to venture forth?
■By Prof. John Erni 陳錦榮教授
John Erni is a university professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He thinks everyday culture is complex but always enchanting.