Brow Beat

John Oliver Talks Pile-Ons and Public Shaming With Someone Who’s Kind of an Expert

What do a wildfire-starting border patrol agent, Liam Neeson, and a woman dubbed the “worst aunt ever” have in common? They’ve all been on the receiving end of an internet pile-on—though not all of them necessarily deserved it, as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday night.

The Last Week Tonight host argues that, despite the ways it can go wrong, public shaming is not inherently a bad practice. “When it’s well-directed, a lot of good can come out of it,” said Oliver. “Like if someone’s caught doing something racist or a powerful person’s behaving badly, it can increase accountability.” But when it’s misdirected, it can do serious harm, and Oliver uses the segment to reckon with his own role in the internet outrage machine, explaining that his team does carefully consider who they should or shouldn’t mock on the air, even if you may not always agree with their conclusions.

What does happen when the digital mob turns its fury on a person who isn’t Tucker Carlson? John Oliver sat down with someone who’s kind of an expert in being publicly shamed: Monica Lewinsky, who explains why she never changed her name and one way social media could actually have made it easier for her to weather the scandal in the ’90s.