How Public Shaming Has Evolved Through Time

From shaming sinners in public squares to online “funas,” history shows public exposure has long been used to enforce social norms. While methods changed (authorities vs. online mobs), the core idea remains — hold wrongdoers accountable and deter future offenses.

How Public Shaming Has Evolved Through Time
A person holding a smartphone with a social media post visible on the screen.

Public exposure constitutes a citizen expression through which irregular or illegal facts are communicated. Furthermore, it may be linked to the activity of individuals or groups that, through organization, seek to demonstrate publicly with the purpose of demanding the resolution of a problem or the structural change of a social system.

In current social media trends, one of the concepts widely used by Internet users is the word “funa” or the act of “funar.” The use of this word seeks to discredit and publicly expose people who are the object of social displeasure in relation to a specific issue. The Royal Spanish Academy points out that the origin of this word is Chilean and has several meanings, the most notable being “organizing public acts of denunciation against organizations or people related to acts of repression in front of their headquarters or home.”

On the other hand, the newspaper El Economista mentions that the origin of the term in the “Funa Commission” which emerged in the nineties of the last century and its function was to point out Chilean public officials who had not been punished after committing crimes in the time of Pinochet.

Although there is no formalization or defined origin of the word's meaning, the act of publicly exposing questionable behavior has been around for centuries. For example, the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of Mexico had as its main objective the persecution of crimes against morality and the Catholic faith, such as omens, bigamy, heresy and witchcraft, which were punished according to their severity by the Court of the Holy Inquisition. Consequently, the accused were publicly exposed and subjected to social judgment, since one of the purposes of the punishments imposed by the Inquisition was to serve as a warning to dissuade members of the community from committing these acts established as crimes by the Court of the Holy Office.

At the beginning of the 19th century, in New Spain, contracting a second marriage was judged and punished by the Holy Inquisition. Under that idea, we present a case of persecution and exposure for bigamy, which took place in the Ciudad Real de Chiapa, today the state of Chiapas, when a woman named Manuela Suñiga accused Pedro Martyr Gallegos, known as Don Pedro Gallardo, for marrying with another woman being his wife.

History relates that, in the year 1802, in Mexico City, the Holy Office entrusted the vicar and ecclesiastical judge of Santa Cruz de la Villa de Yoro, Don Feliz Antonio Soto, with the task of resolving the case of Doña Manuela. To carry out the investigation, a commission was created, which had the objective of investigating whether, in fact, Pedro Gallardo had committed the crime of bigamy. Don Feliz Antonio Soto summoned Don Feliz Leonardo Carranza, an exemplary and pious man of the community, to be part of the commission.

Both, under oath and the sign of the holy cross, promised fidelity and secrecy in the matter, until the confirmation of said investigation. To begin their work, they ordered a review of the marriage records from 1802 and five previous years, to ensure that Pedro Martyr had married for the second time; however, they did not find any evidence that accused the subject in question. Given the lack of records, they proceeded to question several local elders, but none of them had knowledge of the accused.

Given the lack of clues, Don Feliz Antonio Soto decided to refer the proceedings to the Holy Court of Mexico City to determine the next step in the case. However, information emerged that linked Pedro Martyr Gallegos to Manuela Suñiga, which led the commissioner of the Ciudad Real, Don Ramón Ordoñez, to carry out new investigations.

It was ordered to examine the marriage of Pedro Martyr Gallegos and Manuela Suñiga, their married life, children, and their current whereabouts. In a series of testimonies collected in the Royal City of Chiapa in March and November 1802, it was confirmed that Pedro Martyr Gallegos had married Manuela Súñiga in the cathedral of Mexico City more than twenty years ago. Testimonies were collected about the physical appearance of Pedro Martyr Gallegos, his residence, as well as details about his marriage and conjugal life.

He says that he knows Pedro Martyr Gallegos and Manuela Zúñiga, his wife: that he does not know the age of both, although they are not old, they are generally considered be mestizos, that they are both natives and residents of one of the neighborhoods of this city that call him the hill: that Pedro Martyr Gallegos is a tall man marked with smallpox, that Manuela Zúñiga is a tall, thick woman who is publicly and well known to know that they are married and that she married them and watched over them in the cathedral of this city as parishioners who are of the curate of the tabernacle, there will be about 25 years, the (tuned) priest Don José Chacon of Texada who was on that occasion (coadjutor) of the curate of this city, who has heard it said that Francisco Padilla and Mónica Mena were godfathers.

In the investigations, children, godparents, and witnesses of the marriage were mentioned “(…) that their godparents were Francisco Padilla and Mónica de Merma: there is no memory of the Witnesses. That the time they lived together was about 12 years, during which they lived a marriageable life. That the children they had in their marriage were 5 of whom one named Ysidoro died, and the four who are living are called Thomas, Onofre, Eulogio and Juana María.” The possibility of a second marriage in the Yoro Valley was investigated, but, despite all the information collected, it could not be determined if he had a second marriage, nor did they know his whereabouts.

Finally, the file was sent to the viceroy, who concluded that there was insufficient evidence to confirm the second marriage of Pedro Martyr Gallegos in the Yoro Valley. With all the efforts of the Holy Office and local authorities, the case remained unsolved due to the lack of concrete information regarding the whereabouts and actions of the accused. Therefore, they did not publicly expose the case; however, it was said that if Pedro Martyr had been found guilty, he understood that he was committing a crime and, according to the regulations at that period, he should be denounced, persecuted, punished and publicly exposed.

We can observe that there are two fundamental differences between the contemporary practice of “funar” and the public display punishments of the Tribunal of the Holy Office:

In the current funar, the action is carried out by society in general, while, in the past, it was an authority who exercised this practice, establishing the norms of social coexistence and seeking to maintain uniformity in society.

The practice of funar is carried out through informal means, such as social media, while public display by the Tribunal of the Holy Office was a formal procedure that involved appearing before established authorities.

In contrast to today, where the funa does not require a prior investigation, in New Spain it was imperative to verify the guilt of the accused before the authority before exposing them publicly.

In conclusion, in history we can find a reference for practices that, although they no longer function in the same way, continue to operate, in this case, public exhibition. Inquisitorial punishment processes invite us to reflect on the evolution of public denunciation practices over time and their relevance in contemporary society. Through a comparative analysis between the past and the present, we can understand that the use of exhibition has historically been a tool to manage social order.

Full Citation: Archivo General de la Nación. “Comparación entre la exposición pública en la Nueva España y la ‘funa’ en el actualidad.”, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.