Author(s): Jon Ronson
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.
Ronson's interest in public shaming started when three Cambridge scholars opened a spambot twitter account under Ronson's name, and only took it down when the internet threatened to find them and kill them. His interest piqued, Ronson looks at the infamous case of Jonah Lehrer, the pop-psy author who fabricated Bob Dylan quotes for his book on creativity. He also speaks to Michael Moynihan, the journalist and Dylan buff who came across Lehrer's faux pas and who had to make the heart-wrenching decision to go public with the information, knowing it would destroy the writer. Ronson also talks to a woman whose tweet got her fired in a matter of hours, a woman who shames willing victims for a living, and the people who can make your dirty internet history disappear, for the right price. Also fascinating is the look at the history of the mob mentality - why we feel safe in a crowd, but are less willing to stand up and point a finger when alone. And the American judge who is using public shaming for good, to turn offenders around. - Lucy
We’ve heard the stories of people who have been exposed for exploits (inadvertent or not) on the internet and in print. In this book Ronson looks at examples of how a person’s life can be so damaged by the consequences of their actions that they have, in some cases, virtually taken to their beds. That off-the-cuff comment, the thoughtless photo once captured by social media, can be devastating if it is used to shame the person involved. Justine Sacco’s careless tweet while en route to Africa sparked international outrage, and overnight she became a pariah; she needed to return to the USA immediately and her employment was terminated. She isn’t the only one who bought about their own downfall by being (and here you can select the word you prefer) thoughtless, immature, gullible or just downright ditzy. In her case there seems to have been no malevolence, just stupidity and no realization that once you have put something out into social media, it is beyond your control. Ronson has a selection of people like Sacco: plagiarists, inappropriate photo opportunists, the overheard and the misunderstood. All of these examples are shown in the light of how they were shamed – it isn’t pretty. He includes a small amount of information on the history of public shaming – think of stocks used for public humiliation, a USA judge who sentence criminals to carry, once a month, for ten years, outside high schools and bars, a sign saying I killed people while driving drunk. The phenomenon of humiliation has always been with us (read Nathaniel Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter), but the vehicle for shaming has changed over the centuries. The advent of social media has made shaming a very pernicious beast and we all need to be aware that this is caused, as Ronson puts it, by us. Ronson does jump from one example to another and he covers a wide range of material including how a shamed person can actually vanish from the internet – this incurring some considerable cost. He also gives examples of how the shamed have been treated, from loss of employment to utterly vile, frequently untruthful messages posted on social media. As I said before, it isn’t pretty. It’s like Chinese whispers gone mad, and the chance to get on the shaming bandwagon appears to bring out the worst in some people. Ronson admits he has previously shamed people and now appears to really regret this and the damage he acknowledges he has done. My social media life must be pretty innocent because my ‘friends’ tend to send me pictures and video clips of sunsets, cute animals and cuter kids. To date nothing unpleasant, although I did see a snide comment someone made about a picture of a cake my granddaughter had baked and which her mother had proudly put on Facebook. How dare they! I wanted to send them a virtual smack but after reading this book I managed not to. Good on me! If social media interests you, read this book. If you are interested in the psychology of humiliation and shaming, read this book - it really is quite enlightening about how far society has changed. - Marie
From the Sunday Times top-ten bestselling author of The Psychopath Test, a brilliant and hilarious new book exploring the consequences of public shaming
Jon Ronson is an award-winning writer and documentary maker. He is the author of many bestselling books, including Lost at Sea, The Psychopath Test, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Them: Adventures with Extremists. His first fictional screenplay, Frank, co-written with Peter Straughan, was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stared Michael Fassbender. He lives in London and New York.