Online shaming of healthcare workers during Covid-19

A healthcare worker wearing PPE walks past a mural outside Clinic Ajwa, Malaysia. Photo source:

The Coronavirus has turned into a global pandemic and a serious mental health crisis.  Working on the front line of the pandemic, and being the most vulnerable to COVID-19, healthcare workers were put through a lot of mental health stress during the pandemic. Ironically, the healthcare workers, who were working for the good of society/public, were criticized, judged, shamed and even sometimes attacked physically by the public for many reasons.

Professor Luna Dolezal, author of the book The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism, and the Socially Shaped Body’ was our guest speaker for the guest speaker series. During the session, she focused on how pandemic public shaming landed on doctors and other healthcare workers during the initial stage of the pandemic. She started the session by talking about shame and stigma and gave an example incident of a woman who missed the clapping for carers. The woman was ‘named and shamed’ in many social media platforms; one of the very first instances of pandemic shaming (Williams 2020).   

The shaming and stigma of healthcare workers was ‘not something unique to covid’, but was also common during other previously documented pandemics (Dolezal 2021).  The speaker points out some examples from around the world, about shaming of healthcare workers during previous pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola. The speaker talked about some examples of shaming targeted on doctors in international media, including the case of Dr. Chris Higgins, Dr. Rokita, and Dr. Jean Robert Nickolas from Australia, Poland, and Canada respectively. The doctors and other essential workers, from everywhere, were facing violent actions from the public. In some parts of the UK and India, many doctors and healthcare workers were spat at, verbally abused, and even beaten up under suspicion of them spreading the coronavirus (Johnson 2020)

A bunch of people attacking a doctor who came for covid sample collection. Photo source – India Today.

Media’s role in promoting violence has been a debate of topic for a long time. Dolezal then pointed out how using war metaphors such as ‘covid warriors’, ‘war against covid’ etc, by news media organization in their news headlines when describing healthcare workers, while reporting information regarding covid contributed to shaming. Using war metaphors in public discourse has a compelling action; it expresses a sense of emergency that captures attention and motivates action (Flusberg et al. 2018). Dolezal then talked about shame backlash and pointed out that pandemic shaming often backfires on the shamer, especially, when they are directed towards healthcare workers.

The speaker then talked about how shaming became worse and more frequent when compared to previous pandemics. According to Mann (2018), the ‘scene of shame’ has drastically changed from public space to the internet. One reason for this could be due to the ‘increased usage of internet and social media by public time during the pandemic’


Dolezal, L., 2021. Healthcare workers & online shaming during covid-19. Media communication & covid-19 [speakers’ series video, online].  Available from:   [Accessed 24 January 2022].

Dolezal, L., Arthur Rose. and Cooper, F., 2021. Covid-19, online shaming and health care professioners. The Lancet Journal[online], 398 (10299), 482-483.

 Flusberg, J, S., Matlock, T. and Thibodeau, P, H., 2018. War metaphors in public discourse. Metaphor and Symbol [online], 33(1), 1-18.

Johnson, S., 2020. Spat at, abused, attacked: healthcare staff face rising violence during Covid. The Guardian [online]. 7 June 2021. Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2022].

Mann, B., 2018. Femininity, Shame, and Redemption. Hypatia A Journal of Feminist Philosophy [online],33(6), 402-417.

Williams, R., 2021. Coronavirus: Woman ‘named and shamed’ by neighbours on Facebook for not joining clap for carers. Sky News [online]. 24 April 2021. Available from: [Accessed 25 January 2022].

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