Prison in Mind

Out of all the thoughts from last week’s topic, the idea of public shaming demonstrated by the case of Justine Sacco stood out to me the most.

Apparently, as indicated by Glenn Greenwald in his TED talk, it all started when 18th- century philosopher Jeremy Bentham devised an architectural design called the panopticon to resolve the problem of not being able to monitor and control each one of the members of constantly growing large institutions (a.k.a. prisons). The whole point of this design was to make inmates believe that they could be watched at any moment and anywhere, even when no one was actually watching them, but they would never know. It was believed that this would be the ultimate enforcer for obedience and compliance. What is more, in the 20th-century, a French philosopher Michel Foucault suggested that this aforementioned effect may be applied to not just prisons, but to every institution that seeks to control human behavior, including schools, hospitals, factories and workplaces. So there you go, that’s where the prison in mind came from.


pnrk: The hardest prison to escape is in your mind.

So, how is this then related to public shaming?

Human beings are social animals, we have the will to stay connected, which is why we share online. Yet, at the same time, we have a desire to be at a place where we are able to be free of judgemental eyes of other people. In fact, human nature causes our behavior to dramatically change when being watched or judged by others, as we are well aware of what other people think – human shame is very powerful motivator, as is the will to avoid it.

Consequently, when people publicly shame others, that is, abusing the free speech and privacy, it’s like putting others in another type of prison in mind, extending the negative influences beyond the victims’ personal life and career. As suggested in a post by The Guardian, for the first time in centuries, online mediums like Twitter have given people who often feel excluded and powerless a megaphone to finally shout, argue, gossip and abuse, creating an army of tweeters who shelter behind their digital ‘privacy’ to abuse other people’s privacy. Just like Sacco’s case, the victims of public shaming are constantly being watched and judged, like an inmate in the ‘mind prison’ in the head of the people in the so-called army.

Admittedly, there are reasons why people engage in public shaming. In a Huffington Post post about public shaming of drunk racegoers, Psychologist Meredith Fuller proposed that people make such moral judgments in order to deny the naughtiness in themselves, so they project their own insecurities, fears, resentments or concerns onto the one thing or person triggering those feelings. Particularly, the main reason why people shame others online is simply because it’s online. With the use of a shortcut way to express an opinion, there’s no real connection or experience with the person being shamed and consequently, people tend to overlook the real damage and pain, of becoming like an inmate in a prison.


Brooks, E. (2016) The Psychology Behind Public Shaming Of Drunk Racegoers. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: (Accessed on 26/11/16)

Greenwald, G. (2014) Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters. TED. Retrieved from: (Accessed on 26/11/16)

The Guardian (2014) Twitter abuse: easy on the messenger. Retrieved from: (Accessed on 26/11/16)

Prison image. Retrieved from:



8 thoughts on “Prison in Mind

  1. Hello Hei Lam,

    I was immediately drawn to your blog by your very expressive image and title. This notion of ‘mass surveillance creating a prison in the mind’ is something that I found very intriguing when deciding what stance to take with my blog. I appreciate the flow of your post and the way you’ve described the concept and demonstrated the built in hypocrisy we, as humans, possess in terms of wanting people to know what we are doing but also wanting to keep our privacy.

    However, I would like to know how you would link mass surveillance and public shaming to business or educational use of social media. For example, Justine Sacco’s tweets clearly affected her in a business sense, so I would love to know how you would maybe elaborate on that.



  2. Hi Hei Lam,

    I really enjoyed the way in which this post was written, with a clear structure making it easy to digest. I appreciated your inclusion of the brief history of the ‘prison in mind’ concept, as this was something completely different to what I found on other people’s posts and was the driver for this comment.

    Like Kevin, I too would have liked to see more of the business or educational use of social media tying into the ethical issue of public shaming – as I felt this was not really included in the post. Personally, I feel that more stories or perhaps a video providing an insight into public shaming and the consequential prison in mind, would have given the ethical issue more depth.

    I look forward to reading your reply to Kevin as well as your future posts.



  3. Hi Hei Lam,
    I really enjoy your post. The structure is so clear and the perspective you chosen is outstanding. It is very interesting and attacked to me to read your blog. I agree with your point of view because I also have additional media account to post what I want to say. But in certified account I will never say anything about extreme point or disclose something makes me shame because I am afraid that someone will watch me and harm me with the words. Cyber-violence is so horrible which I also mentioned in my past blog. If you are interested in you could read my topic 2 blog.

    Your post makes me consider deeper of this point of view. And my perspective is total different with you which is about should parents spy on kids, maybe you could read it.

    Overall, you really did a good post. Looking forward your next post!



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