This article is referenced in the “cruelty” podcast I reposted yesterday. It relates the harmless torturer problem, an abstract problem from moral philosophy, and briefly discussed a number of social contexts where it applies, particularly in aggregation of quasi-anonymous behavior on the internet. He points to microaggressions as examples of actions that are individually mild, but cause more harmful effects in the aggregate. On the flip side, small acts of punishment can be amplified to torturous degrees when facilitated by online social networks.
There is a dial in front of you, and if you turn it, a stranger who is in mild pain from being shocked will experience a tiny increase in the amount of the shock, so slight that he doesn’t even notice it. You turn it and leave. And then hundreds of people go up to the dial and each also turns it, so that eventually the victim is screaming in agony. Opinion | Are We All ‘Harmless Torturers’ Now?
In the age of online shaming, we should push ourselves to consider the collective consequences of our actions.