• HungoverEconomist


A week ago people used their social media account to show support for the protests against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, as well as the broader Black Lives Matter movement. They posted an entirely (almost entirely, in some cases) black screen with the hashtag #blackouttuesday. Some people posted more, providing additional information for ways to lend additional support, but many stayed with the simple supportive statement.

Unfortunately, some people found this to be an opportunity to criticize and shame those who posted the blacked out image. While some of the responses were aimed at informing people to avoid using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in order to avoid disrupting an important communication channel, some of the responses appeared to shame individuals for providing "too little" support or suggest that the poster's motive was not genuine (they just wanted to be trending).

I found this criticism to be disheartening and disappointing to see. Aside from the general assholery and high roading of this sort of shaming, it seems quite counterproductive. If the idea is to encourage people to support and do more, then this negative reinforcement can trigger the opposite reaction. Those individuals on the margin of support are now faced with an additional cost of support, and those would-be supporters may perceive this as a cost of lending support. In both cases, this type of shaming can result in weakening support. A more appropriate response would be to reinforce positively with appreciation, words of encouragement, and information on ways to continue and expand their support. That is, positive reinforcement of the behavior provides a benefit rather than a cost.

This strategy is applicable to many movements (other than the one mentioned above), as well as situations on a more personal level. I would encourage all who feel the need to engage in support shaming to reconsider their approach, and move towards one in which works to lower the costs and increase the benefits of those wanting to lend support.

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