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What does "Name and Shame" Mean?

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  • Written By: Elise Czajkowski
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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"Name and shame" is something a government does to expose people or companies who violate certain laws or codes, including those who commit crimes or engage in anti-social behavior. Some other organizations do this as well, either to expose crime that might have been covered up or to shine a light on behavior that the public might object to. The idea is that exposing the identities of these individuals will discourage others from engaging in similar activity for fear of also being exposed.

Groups "name and shame" when they release lists of the names of people or companies who have engaged in behavior that is illegal or otherwise objectionable. Often, this behavior includes acts that tarnish a person's reputation and standing within a community. It is commonly done to shoplifters, sex offenders, and those who visit prostitutes, for example.

Another occasion when a government might take this action is when they identify people or companies that have committed fraud. This might include lying to government agencies about taxes, stealing money, or perpetrating fraudulent schemes. Public officials who act unethically in elected or appointed positions may also be named.

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The fairness and usefulness of this process is debated. Some see it as a positive form of peer pressure, discouraging bad behavior in society by making it known to all. Others see it as unfairly setting up citizens and companies for derision by neighbors and consumers. There's no chance for the person or company on the list to explain the context of the action, for example, or what might have been done to remedy the situation.

While some "name and shame" lists are sure to embarrass those featured, certain types of crimes or behaviors may actually be encouraged by being given such notoriety. Anti-social behaviors, such as spraying graffiti, are popular in certain crowds, particularly amongst teenagers. Being "named and shamed" might be considered a badge of honor.

Another criticism is the possibility of permanent damage to the reputation of those named. In some cases, a minor drug or shoplifting charge that could be expunged might remain in the public awareness for longer due to these lists. Some argue that this is unfair, especially for young offenders who may find it difficult to cope with the public perception of them.

Politically, some governments and intergovernmental agencies "name and shame" countries and leaders that do not abide by international laws and standards. This can include human rights violations, equality laws, and environmental issues. This practice is used as diplomatic pressure to push certain nations and leaders into alignment with other countries.

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