Does public shaming of COVID spreaders achieve anything?

Double standards abound in denouncement of those who refuse to isolate.

fingers pointing at a shamed woman

Clare Southerton, UNSW

When the news surfaced that three young women had travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney, failed to quarantine and two in the group subsequently tested positive to COVID-19, there was severe backlash.

The two women were named and shamed in the media, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was “angry” they had put the community’s health at risk.

Social media feeds brimmed with community outrage, as further details about the women’s movements came to light.

Ultimately, Queensland Police laid charges against the women, alleging they provided false and misleading documents at the border. The two women will face court on 28 September.

While there’s no question these women did the wrong thing, evidence from past health crises shows us shaming and stigma don’t necessarily encourage compliance with public health advice. Public shaming could instead further marginalise already vulnerable groups.

We’ve seen a lot of public shaming during COVID-19
Whether in response to videos of people refusing to wear masks, or so-called ‘superspreaders’, there’s been no shortage of public shaming during the pandemic.

But it’s important to consider the role privilege plays when individuals become the subject of our collective outrage and condemnation.

We might compare the treatment of the Queensland women with a similar controversy in March, when a Melbourne couple contracted COVID-19 while on a skiing holiday in Aspen, Colorado. They tested positive back in Australia but reportedly flouted the directive to self-isolate.

The Melbourne couple were wealthy white Australians, and their case has been dealt with quite differently to the young Queensland women who are African Australian.

While both cases elicited public backlash, most publications didn’t name the Melbourne couple, citing “legal reasons”. Conversely, the young women from Queensland were identified by name, and photographs were taken from their Facebook accounts.

The online anger directed at the women became increasingly racial in nature. They were identifiable as non-white and had attended an African grocery shop while potentially infectious.

Within hours of these details being published, members of the African community in Brisbane reported intense racist harassment on social media.

The public backlash against the Melbourne couple was muted by their relative anonymity. They were protected from the level of doxxing – having one’s identity and personal information shared widely online – the young women have experienced.

Past health crises show us shaming doesn’t work
The wealth of existing research on pandemics and epidemics shows people who contract a virus and then go on to spread it are often subject to public shaming and stigma.

Research also shows that poor, non-white and other disadvantaged groups often experience this stigma much more severely than privileged groups.

Importantly, there’s compelling evidence public shaming is an ineffective tool to encourage compliance with public health orders and restrictions.

Extensive research into the stigma experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS has found this stigmatisation reduces the likelihood a person with the disease will seek a test, diagnosis or healthcare.

Similarly, studies on the Ebola epidemic found stigma associated with the virus led people in affected communities to delay seeking treatment.

Public shaming also contributed to significant psychological distress for people exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Public shaming of those who spread COVID-19 may feel cathartic in a time of collective anxiety, but the consequences can be serious. Ultimately, members of our community may become reticent or afraid to be tested – especially already marginalised groups.

Man scrolling on smartphone next to window. Social media has been a platform for public shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutterstock

A pandemic in the digital age
Traditional news media have a powerful role in public shaming, as seen in the case of the young Queensland women. The media creates long-lasting records and sets the tone for public debate.

While public shaming has a long history, COVID-19 has intensified social media-fuelled scrutiny and public shaming, exacerbating the effects of virus-related stigma.

We may assume seeing this kind of backlash might pull us all into line and deter us from behaving in the same way. But experience of shame and stigma in previous pandemics shows it’s an ineffective way to encourage compliance with public health orders.

Instead, public shaming is more likely to reinforce and inflame existing social inequalities.

Clare Southerton, Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Do you agree with the sentiments in this article? Are wealthy white people who breach the rules placed in a different category?

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    Horace Cope
    3rd Aug 2020
    What is this article really about? Is it trying to flush out racists? The three young women set out to deceive the authorities, infected a number of people in Queensland and caused the borders to be shut once more. Their deliberate actions have inconvenienced a huge number of people, may cause the closure of businesses, some of which may never re-open, and put more people out of work. Yes, they should be named and shamed regardless of who they are. If this makes one person decide to not try and dupe authorities in this pandemic then it has done its job.
    3rd Aug 2020
    I agree with Horace. My feelings towards those women are that they were stupid and thoughtless. They broke the law and have done much harm and in my opinion should be punished for that. I think they will be now, even if the police take no action, those who have lost jobs or become ill because of them could even want to take their own action.

    I saw a lot of comments around their appearance. That is nothing to do with anything, but when you portray yourself in certain extreme ways it tends to be noticed. I did it too when that age.

    I never saw any comments based on their race.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Couldn’t agree more, I think the whole report is just another attempt at shaming of white people and this mythical white privilege agenda, these three women have put other people’s lives at risk because of their irresponsible actions, and that is the only thing that should be considered when they eventually face court and not cloud the issue with another baseless accusation of racism.
    4th Aug 2020
    I heard the brother calling it racist...give me a break. I did not know what race or colour they were for 24 hours. Makes no difference to me....a bloody idiot, is a bloody idiot no matter what they look like. So sick of this calling of the "race card" every time someone of a different color or ethnicity does something wrong.
    5th Aug 2020
    I have mixed feelings, it takes courageous people to stand up against this madness that's called covid 19. It's starting to happen in places overseas, like in the UK when 1000's of people went to the beaches in disabeying orders. There was nothing that the police could do even when the government declared a state of alert. There are so many inconsistencies and a total lack of proof that this is indeed a dangerous virus and not just another flu virus similar to SARS and others before. In countries where the numbers are not fudged like I believe in Australia, look at the amount of cases vs the deaths. I would suggest if you looked at deaths by suicide or deaths from the normal annual flu you wouldn't come up with lower number. I smell a rat, wake up! This is nothing to fear, when you are old you have to die of something.
    5th Aug 2020
    Franky, just coz you and other numpties say "a total lack of proof that this [CoV2] is indeed a dangerous virus and not just another flu virus similar to SARS and others before" does not make it so. But by all means, you all should get together to have a rona party to share the virus and be an example to others who feel similarly.
    Country John
    3rd Aug 2020
    Here we go. Three women from Queensland are of African origins. That means it suddenly becomes a racial thing. They speak and read English well enough too travel and lie to police. Let them be. punished for what they did instead of staying they are black.
    Most of the public ridicule on social media can be blamed on the person in the video. They must have known they were being recorded, especially the truck driver crossing QLD to NSW. From what I see there person sitting next to them who visited it. Then one of them posted it. He has asked for what he got in ridicule, shamed etc.
    If you want to do something right or wrong good or bad there is probably somebody close by who will video and post it irrespective of colour or race. Do it in public and it will come back too haunt you.
    5th Aug 2020
    I'm surprised that the opportunity to 'magnify opportunity' for sexism and gender claims has not been exercised as well. People need to be excited that this 'ism' has outpointed the other 'ism'.

    "Ism's' are ruining our Society.
    3rd Aug 2020
    This article fundamentally disregards the fact that the 3 women lied and broke a number of regulations.
    So it isn't about race, age or gender...
    And I am questioning why the effort to focus the conversation on shaming/ naming consequences instead of focusing on real problems?
    . What about the abuse and backlash that our front line workers suffered, what about the backlash that people in retail and hospitality endure?
    I have all the compassion for those who suffer or endure injustice. But these women are charged with blatant offences that they actually committed. And I am yet to hear that either they, or their families, or the communities mentioned in the article expressed any regret about the actions and apologized.
    As for the argument "because a white Australian couple wasn't named", we shouldn't name anyone - disagree and again not sure why are we shifting the conversation to race?
    And finally - the argument that "shaming" will prevent people from reporting... What about just not lying in the first place...
    Mike Omment
    3rd Aug 2020
    What the heck is a "social scientist"
    3rd Aug 2020
    Just another trying to break down a decent society. Racist my back-side that never occurred to me but severe punishment for them has.
    Ted Wards
    5th Aug 2020
    Social scientists have been around for decades, they are people who study the social structures of society and how they impact our lives. COVID-19 will be studied for many decades to come around the impact that the eroding of every social structure and norm we are familiar with.
    3rd Aug 2020
    The 3 Queenslander, regardless of their race, have been selfish, stupid, thoughless and liars. If it happened to an Asian, white Australia etc, the backlash will be the same. There are just too many do-gooders who wants to classify it as racism.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Well said LornaH
    3rd Aug 2020
    I just wish there was more public shaming for other things liking cheating bastards, liars and capitalist pigs I would also like to call out people for what they actually do instead of hiding them behind labels like sex worker or exotic dancer .
    It's time for people to stand up for your morals and call out these pieces of catshit wrapped in dogshit.
    If I had my way I would burn them all on a stake .

    We need a cleansing how about a national day where we can get rid of the vermin instead of pretending and being afraid to call a spoon a spoon , I really am sick of the gutter life dragging us all into the toilet bowl because we can't speak out against the trash .
    3rd Aug 2020
    I agree with Horace what these women did was not the right thing where I live its common to be named & shamed from where Im looking Australia is too lenient do the crime do the time
    Old grey
    3rd Aug 2020
    They deliberately set out to break the law, and put the lives of their fellow Australians at risk. Deserve everything they get - what about all the people whose lives their actions have put at risk? They and all the other idiots who have sought to deceive are useless members of a selfish group of society
    3rd Aug 2020
    Yeah! Stick 'em in the "town square and stone 'em to death"~ lololol

    Any idea how pathetic and nasty the majority of these comments read?
    4th Aug 2020
    and at the same time stone the plastic surgeons who did those appalling things to their faces
    ....why would they choose to be so ugly in looks, actions and personality.
    5th Aug 2020
    shallow comment Mitzy, they no doubt like their appearance and it has nothing to with their behaviour. Perhaps give it whirl yourself, you might like it.
    3rd Aug 2020
    The author of this article is just filling space.
    The article should be directed specifically at the media handling of many such stories.
    But it came from the media and conveniently overlooked that issue.
    When it come to consistency and fairness, the media gets a FAIL.
    My thinking is that naming and shaming all, if they are undoubtedly guilty, will make others re think their stupidity.
    Just show's how people in "high places" lose contact with reality.
    The current court system, for example, leaves a lot to be desired, if they're judged against their duty to society.
    Let's not mentions our pollies.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Never forget that our African Australians are just as fed up with the antics of these women as everybody else. We all do our bit to stay COVID19 free, and then we are let down by selfish, irresponsible and frankly criminal relatives, friends, neighbours etc. regardless of colour, creed or just plain sods that think they're privileged to do anything they want. Send them all to jail, no ifs or buts!
    3rd Aug 2020
    I never at any stage, said anything other than they were irresponsible and needed to be charged for what they did. I don’t care about colour, race, religion or gender, do the wrong thing and cop the law coming down on you.
    3rd Aug 2020
    We have a justice system where people are presumed innocent until found guilty of an offence, and their punishment is intended to be adjudicated by a court, acting in accordance with legislation by parliament, who we the people select.
    The penalties (penalty range) for offences is also set by parliament.
    Because of this framework, I don't believe that public shaming is or should be part of punishment for an offence.
    However, appropriate penalties for failing to follow law intended to protect the whole community from a devastating epidemic should reflect the harm that could be or is caused to the community by an offender's actions. In an epidemic the potential damage is two fold, damage to life, and damage to property (wealth). That damage is not focused on a single individual or company, it is focused on the total community.
    To put things in perspective, there is federal legal action against a whistleblower, journalist and lawyer who made public a recent Australian government's appalling illegal actions bugging the Timorese, seeking commercial advantage in coming to agreement about oil resource rights in the Timor sea. This government legal action is seeking to put the truth revealers in jail for a very long time. The damage this prosecution is seeking to punish is making public the Australian government's lack of adherence to law and ethics. I reckon they should get a medal, but anyway....
    The potential effects of this incident the article refers (effectively breaking a quarantine) could cause widespread devastation in Australia, far exceeding the cost to humanity of say, one person murdering another. I believe the penalty for such an offence should reflect the potential damage. After I watched a clip from a current affair interview being a phone conversation between a journalist and a man apparently a brother of the sisters, I was horrified by the boy/ man's response. I saw no understanding or acceptance of the danger of his sister's actions, only that their actions would not be an issue if they were white bro.
    This has seriously jarred my somewhat generous attitude to refugee immigration. I am now in serious consideration about what regard should be had to the balance and values of immigrants, no matter how tragic and/or traumatic their past may have been. Much of society have ups and downs, and need/ appreciate help, and bring benefit to the community. I've been disturbed on occasions where refugees have become assimilated and are welcome members of communities, who have fought hard against those refugees' eventual deportation because they haven't met some "criteria."
    If they are found guilty, their status is such that deportation is possible, and that there is no recognised genuine acceptance of the danger of their actions, then I think deportation is appropriate not public shaming.
    In the case of others of whatever race or circumstances that do similar dangerous actions, I believe penalties should be custodial sentences, rather than for example the disturbingly flippant penalties for australian train jumpers recently detected moving from victoria to south australia.
    3rd Aug 2020
    You can easily see that Clare Southerton, UNSW, is stirring up racism, we have never heard that race was bought into the treatment that we as Australians, should be dishing out to these low life's.
    Trying to stir up the debate with racism is not on.
    We want these idiots to be named and shamed, their families should be ashamed for letting these obviously long term delinquents grow into dangerous "entitled generation" potential murderers.
    These actions are as Un Australian as you can get.
    3rd Aug 2020
    These women should be made accountable for infecting other people, wasting valuable time, putting everyone at risk, specially our front-line workers. Families should not make any excuses whatsoever for the behaviour of these young ungrateful, selfish, stupid people. And, yeah, a good excuse to mention Racism!
    3rd Aug 2020
    The girls should be ‘named and shamed’ because of the serious consequences of their lying. Is the writer suggesting that they shouldn’t be because of their ethnicity?

    I get a bit sick of people crying ‘racism’ every time someone with dark skin is criticised for anything. I have not seen any racist comments about them. I’ve seen comments about their medically altered faces, but if they can’t cope with that they shouldn’t have had it done.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Don’t try to make this a ‘racist’ issue. It is nothing of the sort. The ‘Aspen couple’ happened at the beginning of the pandemic in Australia, well before we all realised how contagious and deadly this disease was. On the other hand the 3 girls deliberately flouted well known restrictions well into the pandemic. And there was no mention of their race in the media reports. If the ‘Aspen couple’ did the same thing now they would be publicly named and shamed. And rightly so.If the outing of these idiot Queenslanders stops just one person doing the same stupid, stupid thing then it is worth it! And to top it all off they have been investigated about illegal activities. It seems to be getting to the stage that people of non-Caucasian origin are to be treated with kid gloves no matter what they do! Can’t criticise their actions or motives. Oh no!!
    3rd Aug 2020
    Name and shame that does a lot of good doesn't it. The idiot young of today think that's a badge of achievement, something to be proud of. They would be the first to put it on their own Facebook page and parading in front of all for notoriety. Bring back corporal and capital punishment especially in Times like these. These two disgusting creatures have who are an insult to women in general should be returned to the countries of their Origin, where for such a crime would either be stoned to death or beheaded in there village Square. An appropriate punishment for putting the lives of who knows how many at risk, not to mention the economic factor. Such an act May draw the appropriate attention for all the idiots out there to the seriousness of what is happening in the world. These idiots are the result of growing up without discipline and no consequences for actions and regrettably they're not on their own. Yet another successful multicultural story. Jacka.
    3rd Aug 2020
    It is drawing a long bow to compare the actions of a couple in March when few of us really understood the effects of the Pandemic vs the deliberate actions taken by two women in August. Qld was doing well and this is such a blow to the economy, not to mention those they have put at risk. They were also allegedly participating in criminal theft while in Sydney and Melbourne. Yes, name them. It has absolutely nothing to do with race or class. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to has referred to them without citing their ethnicity. Coming from a multi racial background myself, I’m sick of people playing the race card, it does not help
    3rd Aug 2020
    It is drawing a long bow to compare the actions of a couple in March when few of us really understood the effects of the Pandemic vs the deliberate actions taken by two women in August. Qld was doing well and this is such a blow to the economy, not to mention those they have put at risk. They were also allegedly participating in criminal theft while in Sydney and Melbourne. Yes, name them. It has absolutely nothing to do with race or class. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to has referred to them without citing their ethnicity. Coming from a multi racial background myself, I’m sick of people playing the race card, it does not help
    3rd Aug 2020
    I think the brother was too quick to pull out the race card. There have been others who have been recently named and shamed on social media and they did not seem of colour. The skier example was in a time when whilst the virus was around the case numbers were low. This case is very recent and in a time when case numbers are heading into the red zone. So what is the answer to get these people to listen? Treating them with kid gloves doesn't seem to work. They have potentially destroyed some lives and livelihoods. If they are "unfairly" made an example of they hve themselves to blame.
    3rd Aug 2020
    The two white women in Melbourne who flouted the rules were also named and shamed. This is certainly not about race.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Bill Cosby once said when described as an African American that he was not African American he was American. They have now started the same thing in Australia! Should people be described as English Australian, etc? Sorry but this really annoys me! I don't care where someone is from originally but I do care when someone deliberately flouts the laws set in place in an attempt to protect all citizens. And they should be dealt severely. Perhaps people would then realise the seriousness of the situation and that there are consequences for t their reckless actions.
    3rd Aug 2020
    Well said Anniem
    4th Aug 2020
    Very well said Anniem
    4th Aug 2020
    I fully agree Horace
    4th Aug 2020
    Yes, Horace is a reservoir and an example of good common sense and sound logic and thinking,
    4th Aug 2020
    I fully agree Horace
    4th Aug 2020
    Oh for goodness sake. The shaming of those three young women had absolutely NOTHING to do with their ethnic background until their brother pulled the racist card in the media.

    The fact is these entitled COVIDIOTS travelled to Melbourne and held an illegal party in the AirBnB and were caught and fined for that transgression. They then travelled back to Brisbane through Sydney Airport and then LIED about their travel, route taken and places visited purely to avoid mandatory quarrantine in a hotel at their own expense. They subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 after 8 days galivanting around Brisbane. And to cap it all, both were admitted to hospital and one refused to help with any and all enquiries as to her movements in Brisbane and possible contacts for nearly two days. These women worked in schools and aged care! And then there were further allegations of involvement in theft of expensive handbags in Melbourne and further allegations of links to a crime syndicate with investigations still on-going.

    Now please explain HOW their race plays any part in this litany of lies, deceipt and deception? The transmission they are responsible for, the chaos and hardship they have inflected on the businesses they visited and the possible wider ramifications they may cause far transends the colour of their skin.

    If naming and shaming plus high fines and a court conviction stops even one other entitled, selfish dimwit thinking they can copy this disgraceful behaviour then bring it on. Its time to stop mollycoddling law breakers who put other people's lives and livlihoods at risk.

    And just for good measure, I saw a great deal of comment on their appearance but not a single one commented on their ethnicity!
    4th Aug 2020
    So we are pulling the race card once again.First of all these women came from Queensland to Victoria, allegedly stole high end hand bags, had a party then toddled back to Queensland and spread themselves all over the place refusing to isolate and lying to officials. Now that the 'charming' brother of one of these women has decided that their race makes it OK for them to flout laws, we have articles like this trying to further divide us all. They did the wrong thing knowingly and if they choose to have their faces all over social media don't be too surprised when your name gets pout into the public domain. I don't believe anyone had any idea of their race until the brother tried to make it an issue.As for trying to compare a 'white' couple and stating that their names weren't published, that may be that they didn't have social media accounts with their doings plastered all over for everyone to see and put two and two together. They also didn't commit crimes in one state and then give false information to officials, having said that I believe all should be named and shamed then perhaps they will realise there are consequences for stupidity and breaking laws.
    4th Aug 2020
    Who ever thinks this situation with these 3 women is a racial thing well sorry this has nothing to do with what ever race you are,they broke the law end of story.
    4th Aug 2020
    Who ever thinks this situation with these 3 women is a racial thing well sorry this has nothing to do with what ever race you are,they broke the law end of story.
    4th Aug 2020
    I agree with most of the contents. I have told my family that if any of us should get the Virus and prove it was from one of these stupid and thoughtless woman, we should sue her for all costs! Don't look at color, look to see if they have any brains!! I am a believer in if you do the crime, you do the time. And if they cant afford to pay, extend their Jail times, equivalent to their Jail pay that matches the fine.
    ex PS
    4th Aug 2020
    Stupidity is not linked to race. To ignore these simpletons because of the way they look would be racist.
    Idiots should be treated as idiots no matter what colour, religion or race they happen to be.
    Chris B T
    4th Aug 2020
    Who is Paying for this Behaviour that has been caused to QLD.
    A piddly fine wont, a Court Judgement wont.
    The Striker at the Football Match Coped a Instant $50 k fine and all the vision of Contacts was on Video/TV Cameras.
    These Individuals have almost single handily Destroy All the Previous Lock down, just when the situation was on Track for no Covid 19 in QLD.
    Should be in Hotel Quarantine At Their Expense Until Court Date, proven that they don't give a Damn about anyone. Just @'s
    4th Aug 2020
    From the article there is no indication that they spread the corona virus, but made false declarations about their status. Being charged for a criminal offence is one thing, but the outrage and suggestion that they had endangered everyone else by Mrs. Bucket and others is just self-righteous hypocrisy. We never hear what the government or health officials get up to, but it is unlikely they are any more scrupulous or honest in their behaviour - just never called out. It's strange how so much of the spread occurs within the health system in spite of all the protections, but nobody ever gets named or shamed for that. On the contrary they are regarded as 'heroes'. Please explain!
    4th Aug 2020
    unbelievable simplicity Bill. Don't get out much? you need to gather some information before posting!
    Wendy HK
    4th Aug 2020
    OMG! How could this be about race. They have had so much done to their faces, I can't tell what race they are. They are just 3 selfish women. Full stop!
    4th Aug 2020
    What's disadvantage when three teenagers can afford to fly from Brisbane to Melbourne, stop off in Sydney and visit numerous shops and restaurants in all three locations? I'm white but couldn't afford to do that at nineteen but it wasn't called disadvantage then. We are defined by our conduct and when we choose the behaviour we choose the consequences, whatever our colour.

    Who says naming and shaming doesn't work? I recall a store in Sydney posting pictures in its front window of people caught stealing. Many of these thieves were soon pleading for their photos to be removed. When and who decided the mental health of willfull criminals was more important than the health and lives of innocent community members?
    5th Aug 2020
    Fck the 'racist' crap.... If at fault, you deserve everything thrown at you...give a hoot what colour you are....
    6th Aug 2020
    Very typical article submitted by that bastian of leftist views "the Conversation". Thats right, the rag that bans any submission from medical or university academics anyone for that matter that disagrees with the climate change fear mongering consistently thrown at us. People like Professor Ian Plymer are barred from submitting papers on the subject unless it supports the left view of CC. Having said that, the Conversation once again as usual has made the issue about racism simply because the Queensland brain dead selfish morons are Black.
    7th Aug 2020
    You mean a leftist version of the Telegraph, The Australian, Sky News the Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones shows? It's good to have some attempt at balance!
    7th Aug 2020
    These women lied, visited different states, pubs cafes and shops,knowing full well, they had Vovid19.
    In addition, they are criminals, part of a huge crime syndicate, .that steals designer items and we're on a shoplifting spree, stealing designer handbags.
    Everyone is doing it tough, including retail stotes; but these heartless women, not only put people's lives in jeopardy, they were instrumental in states going into lockdown and people losing their jobs and livelihoods.
    If their brother had not played the race card, nobody would have known their nationality and to make matters worse, he claimed his sister "couldn't breathe through her airways,", another one trying to imitate George Floyd. If she "could not breathe through her airways", she would not have been well enough to travel from state to state on a five finger discount adventure.
    In addition, her mother claimed no-one was helping her! Helping her to do what exactly? To add insult to injury, her mother said that, none of the people affected by her daughter, deserved an apology!
    Yes, they most definitely should be named and shamed.
    People like them, don't deserve to be in Australia.

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