So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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In this book, journalist Jon Ronson explores the concept of shame and the way it is wielded as a weapon of social control. He begins with a story in which he was the person heaping online shame on some men who impersonated him on Twitter, and who had strange academic-sounding justifications for doing it. But he spends most of his time telling the stories of several people who have been publicly shamed on the internet, most notably Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco, the woman who made the tasteless AIDS joke on Twitter while boarding a plane to Africa. This allows him to show both sides of the issue, to explore how satisfying it can be to shame someone we feel deserves it, and the devastating consequences for the victims. The conclusion seems to be that shaming destroys lives without reforming them, and the satisfaction of participating in an online pile-on isn’t worth the bad karma. It’s a fascinating topic, and one worth learning about for anyone who has felt profound shame or feared others’ shaming reactions.

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3 thoughts on “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

  1. Does this book also touch on the positive sides of public shaming? I’m thinking about movies like The Insider, or Erin Brockovich, which do such excellent jobs of publicly shaming corrupt corporations. There is a tremendous positive side to group shaming, how we use it to fight corruption, especially corporate and political corruption. There’s a long and glorious history of doing this, from books like The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, to films like Blackfish, Why We Fight, and the documentary League of Denial. Public shaming is a vital component of fighting against corporations and the military-industrial complex, and I wonder if Ronson’s book points that out.

    • Oh definitely. He talks a lot about the power of large groups of people online to direct attention where it should be. I think he talks about sex abuse cases like Stubenville as examples of that. Another example would be that drug company exec who raised the price of an AIDS drug 5000%–he’s too recent to have been in this book but he definitely qualifies.

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