‘Karen’ videos are on the rise, but mask shaming won't change minds

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A sign in Burbank, California says “no mask, no entry.” Photo by Cory Doctorow (CC BY-SA 2.0).

We’ve all seen the videos of entitled, usually white, people making a scene in a grocery store or Target or Walmart. In some cases, they’re throwing food on the floor or knocking over a display. All because they were asked to wear a mask. These videos go viral, but why? Will publicly mask-shaming people actually change anyone’s mind? 

Alex Abad-Santos, senior culture reporter for VOX, talked to epidemiologists and human behavior researchers. “What they said is that these videos are kind of really satisfying to people who wear masks because they confirm your worst beliefs about people who don’t wear masks. So when you see people freak out, when you see people act irrationally when they’re not wearing masks, it kind of confirms your bias that ‘wow these people are wrong, and we’re right, and thank God we’re wearing masks,’” he says. 

What’s the best way to handle someone who refuses to wear a mask — without amping up the situation? 

Abad-Santos says public shaming doesn’t work. “Health officials that I spoke to said that you can look at HIV, other STD passing, and the way we think about disease, and publishing doesn’t work. What works is actual;y having some kind of encouraging behavior. … The kind of way that we think about how we teach children is positive reinforcement.”

He says health experts advise having conversations.