Explanations on naming and shaming on the internet

The activity of naming and shaming individuals on the internet is becoming increasingly popular. Customers who don’t pay their bills, members of a government department or agency whose decisions provoke resentment, or persons who defend certain political opinions, are placed on an internet black list and thus exposed to the opprobrium of the public. Naming and shaming individuals on the internet deprives that person of their personality rights and is usually illegal.

The public exposure of individuals on the internet is problematic from a personality right perspective. Individuals whose actions or decisions are disliked by the author of a posting find their names published on the internet where they become the targets of provocative insults. These websites can be accessed from any country around the clock, and the information they contain can still be called up years after the original publication. As the reports are not handled with the care a journalist would bring to the job, and as no attempt is made to provide a balanced picture of the events in question, such publications cannot be said to be in the public interest. Quite the contrary, public shaming is essentially intended to stigmatize and degrade. For the person who is on the receiving end, the consequences may be quite severe, which the person posting the information hopes will act as a deterrent. There is rarely any justification for violating an individual's personality rights in this manner.

Contrary to popular belief, personality rights may still be illegally infringed even if all the data are already in the public domain. When the data are combined from different sources and published in a completely different context, they no longer have anything to do with the original publication. There is no justification for using the data in question for a different purpose, i.e. for naming and shaming an individual on the internet.

Even when the internet is used to pillory the representatives of the authorities and to put their names on a black list for allegedly taking inappropriate action, extreme caution should be exercised. Clearly, any person who holds public office may be publicly criticized for their actions. However, the criticism has to be objective and must be directed at the actions of the person in the exercise of their public duties. Usually, this is not the case on public shaming websites, since a one-sided and brief presentation of the facts can hardly be deemed to be objective or factual. Under no circumstances should private addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses or non-public images be published. Unnecessarily defamatory remarks, or calls for impugned persons to be contacted outside the framework of their public activities, may also not be published.

Further information on the subject of naming and shaming on the internet (digital pillories) can be found here.