In 2012, Jon Ronson’s online identity was stolen. Jon publicly confronted the imposters, a trio of academics who had created a Jon Ronson Twitter bot obsessed by unlikely food combinations and weird sex. At first, Jon was delighted to find strangers all over the world uniting to support him in his outrage. The wrongdoers were quickly shamed into stopping. But then things got out of hand.
This encounter prompted Jon to explore the phenomenon of public shaming and what he discovered astonished him. As he meets famous shamers and shamees, Jon learns just how quickly public ridicule, often delivered from anonymous or distant sources, can devastate its victim. After our collective fury has raged with the force of a hurricane, we forget about it and move on, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder what we’ve done. How big a transgression really justifies someone losing their job? What about the people who become global targets for doing nothing more than making a bad joke on Twitter, do they deserve to have their lives ruined? How is this renaissance of shaming changing the world and what is the true reason behind it? Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and our very scary part in it. (Goodreads)
I think this book may be a staple for navigating the modern world. This is so important in a contemporary world where most of us exist on at least one, if not several, social media platforms. Living in such a public sphere means everyone has the ability to be challenged, scrutinised and ruined by the growing strength of internet shaming. This book delves deep into this idea, discussing numerous examples where internet users took a person’s mistake or indiscretion and blew it up, using it to tarnish their reputations, livelihoods and mental states. It discusses how damning these sorts of shamings are, as in an offline world these things could be dealt with at a far smaller and more private level. The people who Ronson engages with and whose stories he shares show that once this kind of shame is vocalised and is perpetuated there is no turning back.
I loved the comparisons which Ronson drew between modern day internet shaming and the historical, archaic versions of shaming, where people would be publicly whipped or stoned in town squares. He discusses how these shamings almost happened on a somewhat micro level, yet how now people are shamed for often smaller and less *severe* acts, wrongdoings or ill judged social media posts, yet are shamed at such a macro and cut throat level. In addition, this book discusses WHY people are so quick to shame others, and how it may be a form of deflection, which I find incredibly interesting. It is interesting to consider conformity and social influences on the internet, and why people are so enthusiastic and ready to fixate on another person’s wrongdoing. While at times it may be a reaction to something we disagree with, the motivation to shame may be something deeper than that, such as a morbid interest in bringing other people down.
What is interesting about this book is reading about the thoughts and feelings of those who have experienced public shaming, and the personal regret they feel for their indiscretions, as well as the anger at social media for exaggerating and defaming them, often before they had a chance to defend themselves. It really made me stop and think about the times in which I may have engaged in the public shaming of a person, and how to strike a balance between challenging, debating or speaking out against injustices to ignite social change, and downright slamming a person publicly. I think this book is important in making us more aware of the dangers of attacking others on social media and will hopefully encourage far more mindful social media use. However, I think there is definitely a difference between questioning somebody or encouraging accountability and simply attacking a person for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. This book has encouraged me to think before I engage, to ensure I am doing the former opposed to the latter.
This book is extremely interesting and easy to read for a non fiction. It is relatively short also, so if you are interested in the idea of public shaming or are unsure as to what that is, this book is definitely worth a quick read.
What are your opinions on public shaming on the internet? I’d love to know.