Posted in: Tattle, Technology

Cathy O’Neil: ‘Big tech makes use of shame to profit from our interactions’

The mathematician and author talks about the exploitation of our feelings, cancel culture, and why she believes JK Rowling is an example of ‘punching-down shame’

Cathy O’Neil is a writer, a mathematician and author of the bestselling Weapons of Math Destruction, which won the Euler book prize. Her latest book is The Shame Machine: Who Profits in the New Age of Humiliation, which looks at the ways shame is manufactured and exploited in a range of industries, including prisons, welfare systems and social media, for coercive and commercial purposes. She argues that a common intention is to shift responsibility for social problems from institutions to individuals.

This is a very different book to your previous one. What made you decide to write about the subject of shame?
I first became really interested in shame while researching Weapons of Math Destruction. I talked to teachers who had been evaluated by a secret scoring system. And they were sometimes getting fired or denied tenure. When I asked if somebody had explained the formula to them, they said they were told it was math and they wouldn’t understand. That silenced them. It was shame as a systematic mechanism.

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