Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Public Shaming for the Greater Good

By Magdeline Lum

Social media may be leading to more altruistic behaviour among its users.

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Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are resurrecting the medieval concept of public shaming. The negative effects of this, like bullying, are widely reported but researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that the possibility of public shaming can have a positive effect on a group of people.

Shame is a traditional deterrent from socially unacceptable behaviour, and is used to single out offenders for public scorn. Conversely the bestowing of honour in the form of prizes can encourage people to care for the welfare. So the increasing use of users’ real identities on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could move communities towards a more harmonious existence.

The research team devised a series of games centred on the overuse of common resources. Each of the six anonymous players was given $12 and a randomly assigned name of a Greek god. Over 12 rounds of the game, participants were asked to privately decide whether to contribute $1 to a public pool. The total of the public pool would be doubled and equally distributed among all the players at the end of the 12 rounds whether or not they contributed.

At the end of game, participants were able to keep the remainder of their $12 as well as a share of the public pool, creating the opportunity for participants to withhold contributions and gain...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.