Director Max Joseph then proceeds to illustrate the dangers of that — and knee-jerk responses that shame people, sometimes based on flimsy or incomplete evidence — designed to feed digital platforms built around algorithms that favor hostility and amplify the loudest and harshest voices.
If you don’t remember those stories, “15 Minutes of Shame” makes clear that the people involved still do, in some cases feeling the ramifications long after. Cultural historian Tiffany Watt-Smith points to the power of schadenfreude, with people delighting in others’ misfortune and righteously seeking to exact retribution.
Throughout, the documentary makes a compelling case that society is “drowning” in this bitter stew, pouncing on and punishing perceived offenders, as author Roxanne Gay observes, in a way that too often lacks nuance. “We fell in love with this new power too much,” she says.
One issue that this HBO Max presentation can’t entirely address is that some examples of shaming seem wholly justified. The problem is that digital vigilantes don’t always make important and necessary distinctions, which can lead to miscarriages of that aforementioned justice and turn truth into a casualty.
In one of the more sobering points from “15 Minutes of Shame,” it’s noted that sites like Twitter thrive on conflict, basically assuming the role of the third kid on the playground yelling “Fight!” when two classmates square off.
There’s no denying that the digital playground can be a rough, unforgiving environment. Whether “15 Minutes” merits 90 minutes of viewing to absorb that generally self-evident lesson could be another matter, but at its best, it’s a reminder to slow down and look both ways before joining in the latest media pile-on.
“15 Minutes of Shame” premieres Oct. 7 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.