Nfld. & Labrador

The shame game: Think twice before venting frustration on social media

It's easy to take a video of a driver who cut you off and post it on social media, but one lawyer says you could face legal consequences.

Publishing the picture of the 'jerk' who cut you off could land you in legal trouble, says lawyer

Think twice before posting something on social media to publicly shame someone, says a Gander lawyer. (iModDesign/Shutterstock)

You see it happen all the time: someone cuts you off in traffic, someone gets aggressive with a store clerk, someone cuts in front of you in line.

In an age when just about everyone is carrying a pocket-sized camera, it can be tempting to whip it out, take a photo or video, and post it online.

But a lawyer says people should think twice before hitting that send button — or there could be legal consequences.

People make decisions quickly without maybe giving the person they're watching benefit of the doubt.- Vanessa McCarthy

Vanessa McCarthy, of Gander's Rebecca Redmond-MacLean Law Office, says there are several things people should consider before opting for shaming on social media.

First: is what you're posting completely accurate?

"It's obviously what they saw, but there's always two sides to every story," she told CBC's Central Morning Show.

Bad behaviour or just a mistake?

"I've certainly seen cases where people are posting things online about somebody that the subject of those posts says is not true, or is not accurate, and you could be getting in a situation where you could face some civil action by the person who's the subject of the post."

Another thing to think about: is what you're witnessing someone being a jerk, or someone who simply made a mistake?

Someone may have cut you off, but that could have been a mistake, and you should reconsider posting something to shame that person on social media, or risk possible legal action, warns Vanessa McCarthy. (Shutterstock)

"Sometimes we assume the intention of the person that we're dealing with or that we're witnessing," said McCarthy.

"People make decisions quickly without maybe giving the person that they're watching benefit of the doubt or taking a minute to think about maybe how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of this."

Once posted, some things can't be taken back

Some form of public shaming has existed as long as society has, said McCarthy, but the speed with which someone can spread information — or misinformation — has never been greater than it is today.

And keep in mind that once something is posted, it can spread far beyond anyone's ability to take it back — or to prevent any consequences.

You shouldn't do anything in public that you wouldn't want on the front page of the paper.- Vanessa McCarthy

The pervasiveness of camera phones is something people also need to be mindful of whenever they're in public, she said.

"I don't know who to attribute it to, but the old saying that you shouldn't do anything in public that you wouldn't want on the front page of the paper, I think that that applies even more so with how prevalent social media is and the ease of access that people have to types of recording devices," she said.

"In terms of what you post online, again, I think it's just as easy to post something kind as it is to post something that's not."

McCarthy added she's not sure she's ever seen a situation where it was necessary to shame someone publicly.

"I can't think of a situation right now where I would say yes, you absolutely should go ahead and shame somebody on social media."

With files from the Central Morning Show