Beware before you decide to name and shame

The naming and shaming of a 57-year-old male lawyer by a 27-year-old female barrister serves as a stark reminder of the reputational damage that can result through the increasing trend of trial by social media, writes Gus Sellitto of Byfield Consultancy

Be careful when trying to exact justice through the media, warns Gus Sellitto
Be careful when trying to exact justice through the media, warns Gus Sellitto
Charlotte Proudman, an award winning barrister, sent Alexander Carter-Silk, a senior partner at the London office of a US law firm, a LinkedIn request to connect.  

The married father of two responded that he was delighted to accept, adding: "I appreciate this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture!!!’  

Clearly offended, Proudman expressed her disapproval in a private message back.  

But she decided to go further by posting Twitter details of the incident with the hashtag #CallOutSexism. For me - and it seems for the majority of men and women who have taken an interest in the story - this was a step too far. 

Clearly, the comment made by Carter-Silk was ill-thought-out; many will feel it was both sexist and inappropriate. 

He has apologised, albeit clumsily, and his firm released a statement reinforcing its commitment to gender equality. 

No doubt Proudman would have achieved both these outcomes through private communications with the offender and his firm.  

There are reports that she will also complain to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. What then did she hope to achieve by going public? 

It’s clear that in ‘outing’ Carter-Silk, Proudman wanted to make a serious point about sexism being unacceptable, particularly when you consider that 76 per cent of partners in City law firms are men.
In this regard, she could have expected considerable public sympathy.  

The issue is that in acting as judge, jury and executioner by deciding to shame Carter-Silk so publicly, and before he was allowed a proper right to reply, Proudman delivered her own verdict.  

The problem for Proudman is that the court of public opinion, where this and so many other private grievances are increasingly being played out, decided that her sentence in this case did not fit the crime committed – that she was using a media sledgehammer to crack a nut. 

The fallout of this is that the reputations of both protagonists have been severely damaged - a consequence of her actions that Proudman may have considered more carefully with the benefit of hindsight. 

More worryingly, it points to an increasing trend of public shaming as a social media phenomenon. The danger of this kind of public flogging is that it leads to extreme views and mob justice.  
As a result of her actions, Proudman has been trolled and is being threatened on social media.  

All of this is extremely unfair but shame breeds shame and social media seems to be a most fertile ground for this. 

What lessons can we learn from this case? 

Be very careful when trying to exact justice through the media. And be prepared for some unintended consequences.  

Unlike the controlled environment of a courtroom, the court of public opinion in which social media operates is a very different animal.    
Gus Sellitto is managing director of Byfield Consultancy 

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