Social media has made it easier for us to share our thoughts and photos online, but posts shaming others in the virtual world can have devastating consequences in real life.

"Instead of whispering at a church or at the back of a classroom or something like that, it comes out in Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat," said Richard Smith, director of the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver.

"It's people causing other people to feel bad," he added.

Celebrate the noteworthy, decry the unfortunate

Over the weekend in Saskatchewan some people jumped to their keyboards to condemn an alleged act of animal cruelty. Two individuals are facing charges after reports that a kitten was lit on kitten on fire at the Craven Country Jamboree music festival.

The names of the accused have not been released to the public but that hasn't stopped people from speculating online and creating a petition asking for those names to be made public.

"What we're seeing is what human beings do; they celebrate the things that they think are noteworthy and they decry the things that they feel are unfortunate," said Smith. 

'There's really no sense in which the internet isn't part of real life these days.' -  Richard Smith, director of the Centre for Digital Media

He said that's how a cohesive society is maintained, but these acts can also go very, very wrong.

"If the assumptions are mistaken then you can, of course, cause a lot more harm," Smith said, adding that in the digital age, larger audiences can be reached more easily.

"If you ran out into the street now and yelled something that was inaccurate it might or might not have very much impact, but if you got onto the radio or now onto Twitter and said the same thing, it could have a huge impact," he said. 

Real world consequences

According to Smith, things posted online can also affect people in the real world.

For example, relationships can break up, people can lose their job or charges could be filed. 

"There's really no sense in which the Internet isn't part of real life these days," said Smith. "People say things that they would never say to someone's face."

He said to avoid any possible future defamation mistakes, before you post, imagine the person you're posting about right in front of you and then imagine a policeman or somebody in authority there.

With files from CBC's Samanda Brace and CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition