I recently read an article in  The New York Times about Uber, the cab service, rating its customers. For those of you who don’t use smartphone apps to book your cabs, most cab services ask you to rate your experience with them before you book your next ride. Uber in New York, apparently, asks its drivers to rate customers as well. And if you have a less than stellar (four out of five) rating, drivers are reluctant to pick you up. Good for them, I suppose; people with better-rated personalities are always nicer to deal with.

But, as the article goes on to say, nowadays, nearly everything and everyone one does (yes, I mean that exactly the way it sounds) is rated online. Online rating has now become a precursor to online shaming. For the uninitiated, I refer to “shaming” the way some of it is categorised in the  Urban Dictionary — fat-shaming, slut-shaming, tsunami-shaming, victim-shaming, drunk-shaming, blonde-shaming, even fit-shaming. And all of it is personal. People are constantly judging your life, aided and abetted by technology. 

Nowadays, a slew of advertisements are being slammed for shaming. For example, an advertisement for Tinder, a very popular dating app that recently arrived in India, proclaims, “You’re probably not her only match. Use a condom”. While the message was part of Tinder’s safe-sex campaign, it received mixed reviews when it was released in March, with some people calling the ad slut-shaming. Unfortunately, ads that push boundaries in terms of content and taglines have a tendency to spread quickly online.  

It’s not just social media that propagates shaming. Smartphone apps like Fatify, Fat You and FatBooth let you turn a friend’s photo into a fatter version of them by adding double chins, puffier cheeks… the works. Then there’s the Carrot Fit app featuring a sadistic Carrot — a “fitness overlord” — that greets you as a “chubby human”, has “one simple goal: to transform your flabby carcass…” and tells you to “prepare to be judged”. Such apps have the Obesity Action Coalition up in arms against the propagation of fat shaming and weight bias. The Coalition’s main argument is that a similar app would never be approved for any other disease; therefore targeting obesity is not okay.

The world’s obsession with body size ensures that apps are not the only thing used for shaming. A gadget — a utensil called HAPIfork — marketed as an “electronic fork that helps you monitor and track your eating habits” was launched last year. While its inventors’ motives may be as pure as the driven snow (to promote healthy eating habits like not eating too fast and chewing food properly), the fact remains that HAPIfork propagates food-shaming. Jessica Roy, in the  New York magazine, sums up the trend perfectly: “Propped up by a segment of Silicon Valley obsessed with building products that enable us to quantify, track, and analyze every aspect of ourselves, apps like MyFitnessPal, a calorie-counter, and wearables like the Jawbone UP, an activity tracker, force accountability on the lazy — or at least try to.” (Jessica was one of the brave souls who tried out HAPIfork). 

Then, on the other hand, there is fit-shaming. An Instagram account, “You Did Not Eat That”, picks up images of fit, slim people eating (or rather, according to the anonymous owner of the account, pretending to eat) calorie-laden food and captions them with a “seriously, stop pretending, #youdidnoteatthat” or a similar sentiment. The account owner sees it as her mission to call out people on their “bullshit” and claims that they don’t have to lie about how hard they had to work to attain those levels of fitness. Again, the fact remains that no one, not even a painfully thin fashion model, needs to be fit-shamed on a public platform for something that is a personal choice: to eat or not. 

When it comes to rating and shaming, nothing takes a hit quite like a person’s sexuality. Sites like  and apps like Lulu let women rate men they’ve been with. On Lulu, women can evaluate men on the basis of their romantic, personal, and sexual appeal and the results are then attached publicly and anonymously to the accounts of male Facebook users. Of course, they may often just save a girl a ton of heartache, but imagine the uproar that would have resulted for a similar app that rated women.

Shaming women for their sexuality was evident in the recent hacking “scandal” of some celebrities’ nude photos that caused a worldwide uproar.  In fact, part of the investigations has turned into a child abuse case after it was discovered that one of the alleged victims — U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney — was under 18 years of age when some of the nude images were taken. This article is not the first to claim, nor will it be the last, that the “scandal” was in fact a crime; a crime born out of the online rating-shaming-bullying cycle of viciousness that is becoming tougher and tougher to get out of.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 1:39:01 PM |

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