London couple the latest targets of online ridicule and shaming

aviva west
Daily Brew
A London, Ont., couple are the latest targets of online shaming after they pleaded guilty to charges for leaving their puppy locked in a bathroom while they went on vacation last January.

An Ontario couple who went on vacation and left their 12-week-old puppy alone in a bathroom are being lambasted on the Internet, the latest targets of online shaming.

Kyle O’Neill, 26, and Gabrielle Penney, 20, of London pleaded guilty last week to four counts of animal cruelty after they locked their Chihuahua mix puppy in a bathroom and took off on a two-week holiday at the beginning of January.

The dog was discovered after their landlord received noise complaints and called the London Humane Society. After acquiring a search warrant, workers from the humane society were able to access the apartment on Jan. 6 and rescue the puppy. It has since been adopted.

Both O’Neill and Penney received sentences of six months of probation, $400 in fees to be paid to the London Humane Society and a 10-year pet ban.

Dissatisfied with their punishment, London resident and animal lover     created a post on Facebook on Friday night with their names and photo and urged everyone to share it as much as possible.

“Everyone please share this photo and shame this London Ontario couple who left their 3 month old puppy alone locked in a bathroom for 2 weeks while they went on vacation. Disgusting human beings.. Makes me sick.”

In a statement to the London Free Press, Cundy-Jones explained her motivation. “I just think that the public shaming is a way to make this something that they’re going to live with. I’m sure they’re thinking they could pay this fine and it would be behind them.”

Cundy-Jones’ post has since been shared more than 15,000 times and O’Neill and Penney deactivated their Facebook accounts over the weekend after being inundated with angry messages. Commentators called them trash, disgusting, losers and one even compared Penney with notorious killer Karla Homolka.

 While public shaming is nothing new — it was standard practice for hundreds of years before the Internet was invented — in the past decade it has been reborn as online shaming, and O’Neill and Penney are just the latest subjects of Internet ridicule and rage.

Perhaps the best-known example of online shaming is Justine Sacco, a PR executive who in 2013 was about to get on a flight to South Africa and tweeted “I hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!” By the time her plane landed, her tweet had gone viral and it wasn’t long before she was fired.

And it’s not just criminals and poorly-behaving executives who are finding themselves the focus of Internet vigilantes.

In May, a mother from Indiana found herself the unwitting topic of conversation for thousands after a stranger took a photo of her and her baby at a restaurant and shared it on his social networks with comments that criticized her for breastfeeding in public.

And in Wiarton, Ont., a mother berated and humiliated for breastfeeding at an Irish pub posted a long screed on Facebook, blasting the manager who had treated her so rudely. Within a couple days, the pub’s rating dropped to 1.4 stars on Facebook and its profile has since been deleted.

In another incident in the United States, a store employee snapped a photo of a mother wearing her sick five-year-old in a baby carrier and posted it to Facebook along with derogatory comments.

And in British Columbia, a Facebook page called Grassholes has been set up to publicly shame Vancouver residents who are seen to be flouting the city’s recent water restrictions.

Even Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds has fallen victim to what is being called parent shaming after his partner, actress Blake Lively, posted a photo of him wearing their infant daughter incorrectly.

“I think people do it to fill a need for attention, or to satisfy their own insecurities,” says Bianca Bujan, a marketing consultant and blogger who recently wrote a post on parent shaming. “Perhaps making someone else look bad in public makes them feel better about their own parenting struggles. I also think that some parents believe that they are experts and perfect at parenting. And while it’s nice that they want to offer their expertise, I think there’s a nicer way of doing it. Providing advice is one thing, but negatively shaming is quite another, and sets a bad example for the next generation.”

On online shaming in general, Jon Ronson is considered an expert on the subject. A Welsh journalist, author, filmmaker and radio presenter, he wrote the newly published So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed after an eye-opening experience confronting the developers of an identity-stealing spammers.

“On social media, we’ve set a stage for constant high dramas,” said Ronson in an interview with Monica Lewinsky for Vanity Fair. “So we have to do something wonderful and heroic or we have to shame this terrible person.”