Whether you’re interested in psychopaths, extremists, or military psychic spies, Jon Ronson is one of the most fascinating pop psychology-based nonfiction authors out there. For his most recent work, Ronson examines to the tendency towards public shaming that the internet has returned to our society.
Ronson’s deep dive into internet shaming begins with a bot created by a group of academics which tweets as @jon_ronson
(Ronson’s real account is @jonronson
). Ronson tapes his meeting with said producers and when it is ultimately unproductive he uploads the video to YouTube out of frustration. Almost immediately, Ronson receives vitriolic comments which support his position. Ronson quickly learns to leverage social media to help him right the perceived wrong and the experience leaves him exultant.
At first, Ronson sees this trend of public shaming as a way for the little guy to effect change. Individuals on the internet can shame companies for abject stupidity or offensive, hurtful marketing. Something starts to go sour, though, when it comes to the shaming of Justine Sacco on December 20, 2013. Sacco’s tweet about AIDS in South Africa (which is admittedly not in the best taste), is sent out to her small group of followers but ends up forwarded to Gawker’s Sam Biddle who shares it far and wide. Before Sacco’s international flight lands, the internet is effectively dropped on her head. Twitter is just waiting for her to land and see all of the derisive comments that have been left for her, and there are even people waiting to confront her at the airport. She is soon out of a job and very much rudderless.
After the Sacco debacle, Jon begins to wonder just what has been wrought by returning public shaming to our lives 200 years after it was mostly abolished in the United States. As he researches, he finds scores more people whose lives are seemingly ruined over a stupid comment, or a picture taken out of the context in which they originally shared it. Like Sacco, most of them shared or said something that was off-color or even somewhat offensive, but in general none of these mistakes are things that they really deserve to have follow them around for the rest of their lives, ruining relationships and careers.
In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson offers a very good look at the recent history and historical precedence for public shaming, as well as some theories on how to keep attempted shamings from sticking. He keeps the action moving by telling just enough of each story to make it seem well-served and not so much that the overarching narrative is bogged down.
Ronson narrates the audio edition of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed himself. His performance is certainly not that of a professional narrator, but he is experienced enough as a presenter – and put enough of himself into his nonfiction – that his delivery really works in this case. Particularly affecting are the sections in which he expresses his ambivalence and eventually concern about the tendency towards internet shaming.
All in all, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a fascinating and thoughtful book that we can recommend in either print or audio.-JEN KARSBAEK