TEXT ON SCREEN: February 2, 1996
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):JERRY SPRINGER: Why dont you want to go through with the wedding? You say youve been a dog. Who have you been a dog with?GUEST: Her best friend
NARRATION: In the late 1980s and early 90s
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW): AUDIENCE: Jerry! Jerry!
NARRATION: Some daytime talk shows tried a different formatit was the birth of trash TV
JERRY SPRINGER (TALK SHOW HOST): Our show is a circus. Our show is stupid. Our show is ridiculous. But people enjoy it.
NARRATION: It tapped into the audiences desire to voice their outrage.
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW): AUDIENCE: Freak! Freak!
NARRATION: 20 years and a technological revolution later public outrage seems to be everywhere.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 12-23-13): KYRA PHILLIPS: Heres her tweet that ignited international outrage.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, GOOD MORNING AMERICA: NEWS REPORT: Her twitter page immediately filled with hateful comments.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, OVERNIGHT NEWS, 5-30-16): JAMIE YUCCAS: The gorillas death is also sparking social media outrage toward the mom.
ARCHIVAL (COMEDY CENTRAL, 10-30-15): Walter Palmer, the lion killing dentist. Remember how mad we were?! There it is, theres that rage!
NARRATION: Today, when unsuspecting people can suddenly be cast as public enemy number one
JENNIFER CONNELL: The whole world is coming out saying Im this horrible, evil person.
NARRATION: How do we keep free speech alive on the Internet without letting an online mob take over?
THE OUTRAGE MACHINE:
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW): JERRY SPRINGER: If you just joined us, this is our first show, and uh, were putting together people who havent seen each other for 35 years.
NARRATION: The Jerry Springer Show launched in 1991, during a hey day of afternoon talk shows on TV.
JERRY SPRINGER: We were one out of 20 talk shows. And all the shows tried to be like Oprah.
ARCHIVAL (THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW):OPRAH WINFREY: A lot of people have problems with in-laws who come and dont know how to go home.
JERRY SPRINGER: Go after middle age housewives. And then along came Ricki Lake. And hers was really the first talk show to go after the kids. Young people are much more open about their lifestyles, much wilder. It just struck me as a business model. So we did that.
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):JERRY SPRINGER: Let me see if I have this right. Youre sleeping with your, youre having sex with your grandson?GUEST: Yes, sir.
JERRY SPRINGER: What was shocking in the 90s is we had never seen this on television before.
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):AUDIENCE: Jerry! Jerry!
NARRATION: The Jerry Springer Show was one of many outlets that fed the publics appetite for the crass and salacious. And on his show
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):GUEST: My comment is for the gentleman in the black shirt.
NARRATION: The audience had their chance to cast judgment.
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):GUEST: If you were going to ruin your marriage on a one-night stand, wouldnt you at least pick a pretty woman to do it with?
JERRY SPRINGER: On our show the bad guys always lose, they get booed, they lose the girlfriend. Only the good guys win. Everyone else loses. Our show is the perfect morality play.
NARRATION: Judging what is considered shameful behavior has long been a part of our culture.
ARCHIVAL (MOVIE, THE SCARLET LETTER, 1934):It is now ordered that you shall wear upon your bosom, for the rest of your natural life, the scarlet letter A.
DANIELLE CITRON (LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND): Hester Prynne, she had to walk through the town with the scarlet A. But at the end of the day, she got to take it off, right? When you post something really damaging, reputationally damaging about someone online its searchable and seeable, its almost like its tattooed on your head and projected throughout the world. And you cant erase it.
NARRATION: Some have argued that shame can sometimes be put to good use, but, Danielle Citron says in her new book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, that a mob mentality can take over, especially online.
DANIELLE CITRON: If you feel like youre in a group and people are acting in a certain way, lets say in an extreme manner, you think, hey everyone else is doing it. Its totally acceptable. When people get caught up in shaming, theyll often say that they did it for fun, this trolling mentality of I get pleasure cause you have displeasure.
NARRATION: And the shaming cycle now follows a familiar pattern.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, PHILLY 3, 10-13-15):ANCHOR: Well, its a lawsuit thats all in the family.CO-ANCHOR: Oh, listen to this.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 10-13-15):DAVID MUIR: The family relative suing a boy over an accident at his birthday party when he turned eight.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, PHILLY 3,10-13-15):ANCHOR: She says he broke her wrist, caused her pain, and mental anguish.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THIS MORNING, 10-14-15):GAYLE KING: She claimed that her little nephew gave her a, quote, forceful hug.
TEXT ON SCREEN:SOCIAL MEDIA COMMENT: She is disgusting and vile. I hope someone breaks her other wrist and maybe her legs as well.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 10-13-15):GRETCHEN CARLSON: Shes suing the now 12-year-old boy for 127 thousand dollars.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, THIS MORNING, 10-14-15):GAYLE KING: Thats right, 127 thousand dollars over a hug.
TEXT ON SCREEN:SOCIAL MEDIA COMMENT: He should have broken her neck.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-15-15):SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: On Twitter, shes been dubbed the Worst Aunt Ever. New York tabloids even crowned her The Auntie Christ.
TEXT ON SCREEN:SOCIAL MEDIA COMMENT: Since its illegal to publicly flog her, we can all do our best to shame her to death.
NARRATION: Jennifer Connell is a human resources consultant from New York City. She was at her cousins sons birthday party in 2011 when the boy, then 8, who called Connell auntie, saw her from across the backyard. What happened next became the crux of a lawsuit, handled by Aaron Jainchill and Bill Beckert.
AARON JAINCHILL (ATTORNEY): Sean ran up to her while she wasnt looking at him and leapt into her arms and she turned like that to see and he landed on her and she fell backwards with all his weight on her.
NARRATION: Connell broke her wrist an injury that required three surgeries. She wanted her cousins home owners insurance to pay her medical bills. But they refused.
BILL BECKERT (ATTORNEY): Under our law in Connecticut there is no provision for bringing a direct action against an insurance company. You just have to sue somebody to trigger in this case the homeowners insurance, the homeowners coverage.
NARRATION: Beckert says that meant naming Connells cousins son as the defendant, in her 127 thousand dollar lawsuit.
BILL BECKERT: There was never any claim for Seans personal assets. There was never anything at all that would suggest that.
NARRATION: Nor was there any ill will in the family. But when Connell and her attorneys went to trial in October 2015, a reporter cast the insurance lawsuit in a different light, one with a more emotional, visceral appealabout a child on trial for exuberance.
JENNIFER CONNELL: All of a sudden, I got a text message from one of my friends that said, lock down all of your social media. So I was staring at my phone thinking, What does that mean?
NARRATION: And when the verdict came, the next headline got even more attention.
JENNIFER CONNELL: This marshall appeared in the back of the court and the attorney said, shes here for you. Shes here for your protection. Do I need protecting? Im just, am not following what is happening here. It just kept growing.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 10-13-15):NEWS REPORT:Yet another fall for 54-year-old Connell, who tried to avoid the media as she left the courthouse, crestfallen and likely in need of a hug.
DANIELLE CITRON: Aunt sues nephew for hugging her. That one little catch line, that was meant to get eyeballs, so distorted a storyline.
NARRATION: But the stage had been set and Connell was cast in a morality play as the snobby New Yorker.
JENNIFER CONNELL: I was trying to illustrate how turning my palm face-up is very difficult and I made the unfortunate comment that I was just at a party holding this, hors, you know, this little plate with the food on it and I was only able to hold that plate for two minutes until my wrist became very painful and I had to put that plate down. Which became the infamous upper east side hors doeuvre comment.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, MORNING SHOW, 10-14-15):GAYLE KING: Connell testified, quote, I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors doeuvres plate.
ARCHIVAL (MSNBC, 10-14-15):NEWS REPORT:It was difficult to hold my hors doeuvres plate.
ARCHIVAL (HUFF POST LIVE):JOSH TEPPS: It was difficult to hold my hors doeuvres plate. Oh the horror, the sheer horror.
DANIELLE CITRON: It was so picked up by the mainstream media that it became almost, like, absolutely normal to really villain-ize her.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 10-13-15):GRETCHEN CARLSON: And I just also want to mention that he lost his mom last year, she passed away.CO-ANCHOR: The fact that his mother died recently may also have something to do with why shes suing, because he may have some sort of a trust or some sort of policy.
NARRATION: Connell reached out to a publicist who advised her to do something to try to get ahead of the story.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, TODAY SHOW, 10-15-15):SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: The condemnation against Jennifer Connell came fast and furious. But was it fair?JENNIFER CONNELL: This was simply a formality with an insurance claim.SEAN: I felt like everybody was saying stuff that they didnt know. SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: I think its a good lesson for everybody that you think you know a story but you never know whats really going on behind it.
NARRATION: But the damage was done. Connells name will permanently be linked to the original story.
DANIELLE CITRON: Thats so often what happens in shaming. The narrative is spread far and wide, whether through Twitter and search. Its really hard to disassemble it.
JENNIFER CONNELL: Theres a Facebook page, many of my friends have quote, unquote, reported it to Facebook, and Facebook keeps responding back saying, Weve reviewed this page and we find that it does not violate our community standards.
NARRATION: Months later, Connell has changed the way she looks and is still struggling to put the experience behind her.
JENNIFER CONNELL: It was very difficult to find another job. People reached out and then cancelled interviews or then said, oh, weve changed our direction or you know, mmm, weve decided not to move forward. Ive had to take certain measures in order to re-establish myself. And I have a umrefreshed identity, which we wont go into any further.
DANIELLE CITRON: Talk about coerced expression, right? Harassers coercing you to have to totally change your identity. There are economic costs and social costs and psychological costs that victims bear that are really hard to get back. When I first started working on these issues, you know, the common response to any time people would talk about their harassment experiences was, Stop whining, the Internet is the Wild West, get over yourself. And I think this idea seems so silly now. 10, 11 years later we now say, This is not the Wild West, this is where we all are. That is your phones, your iPads, your computer, its embedded in everything we do. And so its not some other place with different norms, its where we are and in our space with our norms.
NARRATION: To drive home the real life impact of what happens online Just Not Sports made a video with men reading tweets written by other people to female sports reporters face to face. The men hadnt seen the tweets in advance.
ARCHIVAL (JUST NOT SPORTS, MORE THAN MEAN):MAN: I have to read all of them right, cuz I mean. FEMALE SPORTS REPORTER: Read em I guess. MAN: I hope you get raped again. MAN #2: You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed.
DANIELLE CITRON: Its really important when we think about shaming and abuse and harassment, that we remember that its expression thats often designed to silence other expression.
NARRATION: Citron believes that some protections are necessary to make sure harassers arent using the Internet to silence others. But shes cautious.
DANIELLE CITRON: The Internet is such a powerful and important tool and thats why we really have to think very carefully about limiting speech online. Because there is this potent upside that we dont want to lose.
NARRATION: But the yearning to judge is powerful. Its whats helped keep The Jerry Springer Show going for 25 years.
And when it comes to limiting speech, in order to preserve free speech, Citron and others say its up to all of us to make sure we keep this delicate balance in check.
DANIELLE CITRON: It cant just be the law. Law is way too blunt of a tool. Im hoping that its a combination of law and private providers, and schools and parents, and moderators of content so that we come together and we say, this is not the way we want to live.