Editorial: Secrets and shame shrivel under social media spotlight

In the novel “The Circle,” writer Dave Eggers imagines a Google-like megacompany with the mantra: “All that happens must be known.” As part of its mission, the company develops tiny Wi-Fi cameras, places them on stalks and distributes them across the globe. Soon, every evil or corrupt thing perpetrated by anyone is exposed, forcing people to behave in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise, for good or ill.

It’s more a satiric romp than cautionary tale, but the book ties into the fear that many have about the proliferation of cameras in public places – in airports and offices, on traffic lights and in parking lots and on every smartphone in every pocket or bag. The curtailing of anonymity must have some dark side, right?

Yes, but our overexposed society has resulted in one obvious public good: personal accountability.

Ray Rice’s abuse of his wife is a perfect example. The NFL star was placed on a too short suspension from the Baltimore Ravens last spring after a video became public of him dragging his apparently unconscious wife out of a hotel elevator. It was clear something violent had happened, but we didn’t get to see. The woman in the video, Janay Palmer, wouldn’t dish. She defended her then-fiancé publicly and then married him.

But this week, a new video surfaced on TMZ, this one from inside the elevator showing exactly what happened: Ray punched Janay full in the face. Although the NFL was aware of the video months ago, the Ravens cut Rice after the public saw the ugly truth.

We’ve already criticized league officials for not taking domestic abuse as seriously as, say, smoking pot. But they are starting to understand that covering up for misbehaving players, or anyone else, isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Not long ago, domestic abuse was something that people rarely saw. It happened at home, in the bedroom, in the car, in the elevator once the doors had shut. Abused women and the occasional man rarely talked about it, were frightened or shamed into staying quiet and staying with their abuser.

This glimpse behind a closed door has sparked a frank public discussion about domestic abuse via Twitter #whyIstayed, in which women, and some men too, share the secrets of abuse that kept them trapped in dangerous relationships. Another discussion thread emerged from this: #whyIleft, which offered hope to those just emerging from the shadows.

Another disturbing video this week from Ohio shows more bad behavior that used to be practiced with impunity: bullying. In a twisted take on the ice bucket challenge, high school boys dumped a bucket with urine and spit in it on a 15-year-old autistic boy, according to news reports. The perpetrators unwisely posted their mean-spirited attack on Instagram.

Like domestic abuse, bullying often is done out of sight. As those five boys in Ohio are learning, no more. With video cameras in every space and most hands, it’s less possible to get away with perpetrating vileness on one each other. Sometimes, loss of privacy is not a bad thing.