Mob Justice Is Trampling Democratic Discourse – The Atlantic

Sometimes advocates of the new mob justice claim that these are minor punishments, that the loss of a job is not serious, that people should be able to accept their situation and move on. But isolation plus public shaming plus loss of income are severe sanctions for adults, with long-term personal and psychological repercussions—especially because the “sentences” in these cases are of indeterminate length. Elliott contemplated suicide, and has written that “every first-hand account I’ve read of public shaming—and I’ve read more than my share—includes thoughts of suicide.” Massey did too: “I had a plan and the means to execute it; I then had a panic attack and took a cab to the ER.” David Bucci, the former chair of the Dartmouth brain-sciences department, who was named in a lawsuit against the college though he was not accused of any sexual misconduct, did kill himself after he realized he might never be able to restore his reputation.

Others have changed their attitudes toward their professions. “I wake up every morning afraid to teach,” one academic told me: The university campus that he once loved has become a hazardous jungle, full of traps. Nicholas Christakis, the Yale professor of medicine and sociology who was at the center of a campus and social-media storm in 2015, is also an expert on the functioning of human social groups. He reminded me that ostracism “was considered an enormous sanction in ancient times—to be cast out of your group was deadly.” It is unsurprising, he said, that people in these situations would consider suicide.

Kipnis, who was accused of sexual misconduct because she wrote about sexual harassment, was not initially allowed to know who her accusers were either, nor would anyone explain the rules governing her case. Nor, for that matter, were the rules clear to the people applying them, because, as she wrote in Unwanted Advances, “there’s no established or nationally uniform set of procedures.” On top of all that, Kipnis was supposed to keep the whole thing confidential: “I’d been plunged into an underground world of secret tribunals and capricious, medieval rules, and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it,’’ she wrote. This chimes with the story of another academic, who told me that his university “never even talked to me before it decided to actually punish me. They read the reports from the investigators, but they never brought me in a room, they never called me on the phone, so that I could say anything about my side of the story. And they openly told me that I was being punished based on allegations. Just because they didn’t find evidence of it, they told me, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Mob Justice Is Trampling Democratic Discourse – The Atlantic