Public shaming has become an unintended consequence of our era of transparency and openness, where apologies and explanations are shared with the world.
The Queen of England's strategy—refraining from complaining or explaining—stands in stark contrast to the growing trend of public figures willingly baring it all. However, the repercussions of such transparency are often underestimated.
In my line of work, I often find myself counseling clients who, in their quest for public approval, are willing to lay bare the most intimate details of their lives. Whether it's a high-profile divorce from a billionaire spouse or a bitter conflict with a cheating business partner, some clients believe that public openness is the key to securing victory. However, what they fail to realize is that this pursuit of transparency can often lead to irreversible damage.
Honesty is a virtue, but it doesn't equate to unrestricted openness or succumbing to provocations. The line between being truthful and oversharing can be thin, especially in a world hungry for attention. Being constantly driven by the need for approval can lead individuals to betray themselves, as the desire for attention often clouds judgment.
We must remember that people's craving for spectacle is the most important need, next after the craving for food. "Bread and spectacle," said Juvenal about populism. The appetite is easily excited not only towards food but also towards intrigue of all kinds. Aristotle called it "recognition" and said that "recognition" holds the attention and hooks the senses of the audience. It is the process of gradually discovering new and exciting information. Information that is portioned, new, and exciting acts as a hook, capturing attention.
The same goes for experiences. Gladiator fights, public executions, circus and theatre performances, erotic dances during which dancers gradually took off their clothes—these are the things that from antiquity gathered crowds of people and kept their attention on themselves.
Nowadays, instead of executions and public trials—reality shows, but not one reality show can be compared with spontaneous losing face in public, that is, when a person loses control under the influence of emotions and behaves much more openly than his interests require.
And the higher was the slide from which such a person rolls down, i.e. the higher was his position initially, the bigger was his figure, the more interesting is his reputational agony for the crowd.
The human brain is so organized that it cannot tear its attention away from the picture of rapid change. This applies not only to decline but also to growth. When someone rises quickly from poverty to fame, people watch with even more attention and excitement, unable to take their focus away.
Unfortunately, climbing a mountain is much harder than rolling down it.
The spectacle's allure is directly proportional to the public figure's position. For important figures participating in such shows, the ratings are high. However, for those who habitually engage in public exhibitionism, the interest diminishes over time.
Famous individuals have faced the consequences of public discussions about private matters, witnessing their once-decent reputations tarnished. One notable case is Meghan Markle, whose public discussions and actions within the royal family led to a significant decline in her public image. The openness displayed during interviews with Oprah Winfrey brought attention to private matters within the royal household, resulting in widespread scrutiny. While honesty can be commendable, the manner in which private family matters were exposed ultimately fueled controversy and damaged Meghan Markle's once-positive reputation.
Retired politicians, in particular, have fallen prey to the allure of public openness in their memoirs. Some, missing the glory days of their political careers, have laid bare their frustrations and grievances in print, only to find that such openness can irreversibly tarnish their legacies. These memoirs, meant to be reflections on a lifetime of service, turn into spectacles that invite public scrutiny and judgment.
In the world of show business, celebrities have not been immune to the pitfalls of public openness. Take, for instance, the case of Lindsay Lohan, once a beloved child star. Her public struggles with addiction and personal turmoil played out in real-time on social media platforms. What started as an attempt to be open about her journey to recovery quickly turned into a spectacle that overshadowed her professional achievements. The public's interest in her downward spiral eventually waned, and her reputation suffered irreparable damage.
Another example is Charlie Sheen, whose highly publicized meltdown on social media, complete with erratic behavior and controversial statements, became a spectacle that went viral. His attempt to be open about his struggles with substance abuse and mental health turned into a public relations nightmare. The public's fascination with his unraveling life quickly turned to disdain, and his once-stellar career took a severe hit.
Not all aspects of one's life need to be laid bare for public consumption. Being honest should not be synonymous with sharing every detail of one's personal life or responding impulsively to provocations.
In the virtual age, where attention is often mistaken for approval, individuals are oriented toward the number of views on social media platforms. They interpret a large audience as validation and authority. However, attention does not equate to approval, and this misunderstanding leads many down a perilous path.
One’s public humiliation destroys public respect quickly. Reputation, in the case of public exhibitionism, is like virginity or honor—you can sell it dearly but only once. Once you have sold honor, you can't sell it again because it will no longer exist.
Public exhibitionism, including emotional stripteases, can lead to swift reputational decay. The public's interest in such shows is fleeting, and individuals who constantly humiliate themselves to attract attention become uninteresting. Once a reputation is tarnished, the spectacle loses its appeal, and the audience becomes desensitized.
Watching the loss of face unfold on social media, where individuals share explanations and excuses interactively, becomes an exciting endeavor. The audience initially sympathizes with the person sharing their struggles, viewing it as sincerity and openness. However, as the spectacle intensifies, sympathy wanes, and viewers start urging the individual to stop.
The law of reputation loss dictates that the more and longer it is destroyed, the worse the reflection. Public humiliation rarely stops quickly. Individuals who seek to regain approval demand support, feeling deceived by the audience. They become trapped in a cycle of seeking redemption through more revelations, tantrums, and self-humiliation.
As the spectacle intensifies, it becomes less interesting, and the individual's reputation plunges into negativity. Viewers lose interest, and the individual's public destruction appears self-inflicted. Psychological help becomes necessary, along with social rehabilitation, as bullying often ensues when an individual has lost their balance completely.
In conclusion, the allure of public openness for popularity on social media can lead to irreversible damage. The craving for spectacle must be navigated with caution, considering the lasting impact on reputation and mental well-being. Learning from the mistakes of public figures, understanding the delicate balance between honesty and overexposure, and recognizing that not all aspects of one's life need to be laid bare for public consumption are crucial lessons in the age of constant connectivity. It's a cautionary tale on reputation damage that serves as a reminder that public approval, though desirable, should never come at the expense of one's dignity and long-term well-being.
Masha Ionochkina is a French political consultant and an expert in reputation management, boasting over two decades of experience in the field. Currently serving as the CEO at Silver Eye Reputation Management, a French agency, Masha leads a team of media and law experts dedicated to positive reputation and anti-crisis communications. With a background in political consultancy and global election campaigns, Masha has successfully managed international public affairs and media relations across numerous countries. A scholar as well as a practitioner, Masha holds a degree in Public Relations and Journalism from Moscow State University for Foreign Relations and pursued Doctoral Studies in Political Science. Fluent in Russian, English, Turkish, and French, Masha also holds a Private Pilot License. As a monthly guest columnist, Masha promises to deliver insightful commentary on reputation management tendencies, politics, and elections. Her proactive approach to shaping and preserving digital profiles and client reputations offers readers a unique perspective, informed by years of experience at the intersection of media, politics, and public relations.