So You've Been Publicly Shamed Hardcover – March 31, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2015: Author Jon Ronson knows a thing or two about public shaming. When a trio of "academics" hijacked his persona for an infomorph—basically an automated Twitter feed that spewed inane comments about food in his name—he took the fight to the internet, where the virtual, virulent hordes soon compelled the spambot authors to cease and desist. The experience hatched a thought: Once upon a time, if you wanted to participate in a good, old-fashioned public humiliation, you actually had to show up. But as with most everything else, the internet has made condemnation an exercise in crowdsourcing, with today’s angry mobs trading stockades and scarlet As for social media and its inherent anonymity.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is Ronson's tour through a not-necessarily-brave new world where faceless commenters wield the power to destroy lives and careers, where the punishments often outweigh the crimes, and where there is no self-control and (ironically) no consequences. On one hand, part of what makes this book (again, ironically) so fun to read is a certain schadenfreude; it’s fun to read about others' misfortunes, especially if we think they "had it coming." Jonah Lehrer, whose admitted plagiarism and falsifications probably earned him his fall, stalks these pages. But so does Justine Sacco, whose ill-conceived tweet probably didn’t merit hers; as it turns out, the internet doesn’t always differentiate the misdemeanors from the felonies. But the best reason to read this is Ronson's style, which is funny and brisk, yet informative and never condescending. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is not a scholarly book, nor is it a workbook about navigating ignominy. It's an entertaining investigation into a growing--and often disturbing--demimonde of uncharitable impulses run amok. --Jon Foro
“Gutsy and smart. Without losing any of the clever agility that makes his books so winning, he has taken on truly consequential material and risen to the challenge….fascinating…shocking…Mr. Ronson’s gift for detail-picking is, as ever, a treat.” –The New York Times
“A sharp-eyed and often hilarious book…Jon Ronson has written a fresh, big-hearted take on an important and timely topic. He has nothing to be ashamed of.” –NPR.org
“A diligent investigator and a wry, funny writer, Ronson manages to be at once academic and entertaining.” –The Boston Globe
“This is a wonderful book.” –Jon Stewart
“This book really needed to be written.” –Salon.com
“Required reading for the internet age.” – Entertainment Weekly
“With an introspective and often funny lens, [Ronson] tracks down those whose blunders have exploded in the public eye…So You've Been Publicly Shamed is an insightful, well-researched, and important text about how we react to others' poor decisions.” –The Huffington Post
“Personable and empathetic, Ronson is an entertaining guide to the odd corners of the shame-o-sphere.” –The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“It’s sharply observed, amusingly told, and, while its conclusions may stop just short of profound, the true pleasure of the book lies in arriving at those conclusions.”
“Like all of Ronson’s books, this one is hard to put down, but you will absolutely do so at some point to Google yourself.” –TheMillions.com
“An irresistibly gossipy cocktail with a chaser of guilt.” –Newsday
“With So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Ronson has written a timely, interesting and titillating read for any Internet drama junkie.” –PopMatters.com
“[A] simultaneously lightweight and necessary book.” –Esquire
"A work of original, inspired journalism, it considers thecomplex dynamics between those who shame and those who are shamed, both of whom can become the focus ofsocial media’s grotesque, disproportionate judgments." –The Financial Times
"[So You've Been Publicly Shamed] is both entertaining and fair -- a balance we could use a lot more of, online and off." –Vulture
“Ronson is an entertaining and provocative writer, with a broad reach …[So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed] is a well-reported, entertainingly written account of an important subject.” –The Oregonian
"Ronson is a fun writer to read...fascinating." –Fast Company
“I was mesmerized. And I was also disturbed.” –Forbes
"[So You've Been Publicly Shamed] promises to be the most relevant book of the year." –FlavorWire
"I was sickly fascinated by the book. I think it's Ronson's best book." –Mark Frauenfelder for BoingBoing
"With confidence, verve, and empathy, Ronson skillfully informs and engages the reader without excusing those caught up in the shame game. As he stresses, we are the ones wielding this incredible power over others' lives, often with no regard for the lasting consequences of our actions." –Starred Booklist Review
"Clever and thought-provoking, this book has the potential to open an important dialogue about faux moral posturing online and its potentially disastrous consequences." –Publishers Weekly
“Relentlessly entertaining and thought-provoking.” –The Guardian
“Certainly, no reader could finish it without feeling a need to be gentler online, to defer judgment, not to press the retweet button, to resist that primal impulse to stoke the fires of shame.” –The Times
“Excruciating, un-put-downable…So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a gripping read, packed with humor and compassion and Ronson's characteristic linguistic juggling of the poignant and the absurd.” –Chapter16.org
“A powerful and rewarding read, a book utterly of the moment.”—The Hamilton Spectator
“Ronson is a lovely, fluid writer, and he has a keen eye for painful, telling details.” —The Bloomberg View
“Fascinating and trenchant.” –The Denver Post
“[Ronson] is one of our most important modern day thinkers…[So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed] is one of the most therapeutic books imaginable.” – US News & Word Report
“Personable and empathetic, Ronson is an entertaining guide to the odd corners of the shame-o-sphere.” –The Houston Chronicle
“[A] satirical Malcolm Gladwell… an accessible, fun read.” – Everyday Ebook
"We love Jon Ronson. He’s thoughtful and very funny. [So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed] is a great book about the way the internet can gang up on people and shame them, when they deserve it, when they don’t deserve it and it’s great." – Judd Apatow
"Jon Ronson is unreal. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed –everyone should read that book. He’s one of my favorite human beings." – Bill Hader
"[A] brilliant, thought-provoking book – a fascinating examination of citizen justice, which has enjoyed a great renaissance since the advent of the internet." – Tatler
"A terrifying and keen insight into a new form of misguided mass hysteria." – Jesse Eisenberg
"A fascinating exploration of modern media and public shaming… It's a great conversation starter. Is Twitter the new Salem Witch trials?"– Reese Witherspoon
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Overall, the anecdotes about people who have been publicly shamed are interesting, but the book seems kind of aimless at times. It also only explores the subject matter at a superficial level, not delving too deeply into causes or consequences of this new trend in social media justice.
It was fast read, and Ronson's style is agreeable and easy. I'm just not sure the actual content was fleshed out enough to warrant the price of a book.
Mr. Ronson writes in an accessible and breezy style, which has its merits, and he seems a bit more thoughtful than your average pop sociologist, and he's a bit more rigorous with his questions than your average journalist. Still, having read the book, it felt light on substance, more like a think piece in a magazine or maybe a 10,000 word long-form article in "The Atlantic."
I admire Mr. Ronson for wanting to constantly check his own assumptions and question his motives, but this desire for honesty with himself sometimes shades into solipsism. Too often in this book, it seemed that Ronson was more apt to concern himself with how things made him feel rather than what he thought. And each time he overturned some stone whose underbelly seemed worth exploring, he quickly moved on. Everything he does alright reminds me of works by someone else on the same subject done much better. The sort of Stasi-Big Brother-Panopticon concept of a society where we all police ourselves, and our thoughts, and try to police those of our neighbors, reminded me very much of Timur Kuran's "Public Lies, Public Truths," and Ronson's book regrettably suffered each time the comparison made its way to the fore during the course of the book.
His recognition that our current mavens of propriety have their origin in English and New England Puritanism is also true, but David Hacker Fischer and Colin Woodard both figured this out well before Ronson, and considering Ronson's an Englishman, his inability to expound upon what he sees as the neo-Puritanism of progressives is frustrating, but, at the same time understandable. To probe too deeply into this area would be to risk alienating a large segment of potential readers, who might take it as an insult if Ronson were to link their social justice crusade with previous moral crusades (there seems to be an overlap between social justice types and atheists, so the last thing you want to do is point out to these people that they're basically religious fanatics).
Still this is a decent, timely, and even-handed treatment of the virtues and dangers of social sanction, applied now to the virtual commons rather than the "meatspace" of the city square or the agora.
I'd been thinking about this topic quite a bit before I saw this book had been written, because there have been several examples recently of massive, scorched earth web campaigns against things that I thought was fairly innocuous. It seemed like yet another example of how quickly seemingly civilized people can turn into a vicious pack of animals, and it's frightening, even in the service of a "good" cause.
The web can be a powerful tool for justice when other avenues have failed, for example, when an individual is fighting a powerful company. On the other hand, sometimes the punishment can vastly outweigh the crime, and peoples' lives end up ruined for one tasteless joke on Twitter, or even a complete misunderstanding.
Ronson goes through numerous examples, some of which I'd heard of and some of which I hadn't. He then connects internet shaming to historical public shaming, and explores other sorts of shaming, going so far as to visit the filming of an S&M movie.
It's interesting and entertaining from beginning to end. I was particularly fascinated to learn that there are now companies who (for a very large fee) will "obscure" your internet presence, so embarrassing things won't be quite so prominent.
My heart gave it five stars because it was fun to read. My head might ding it one, because it never really comes together with a coherent theme. Much as he did in The Men Who Stare at Goats, he tells a lot of very entertaining stories, and then tries to tie it together by connecting dots that don't really connect. A lot of things - like the trip the the S&M club - are just enjoyable non-sequiturs. It seems like he's trying to overthink something that's not really that complicated - just a natural extension of human nature into the digital age.
There's no great epiphany, and it's not clear anything can be "done" about the situation. Still, the book is very entertaining, and serves as a good cautionary tale, both for our own behavior, and for our reactions to the behavior of others. Highly recommended.
Top international reviews
The books shows us how a thoughtless sentence, a careless statement or a moment of just not thinking before you hit the keyboard can lead to both famous and unknown people getting ripped apart online. It also offers us 'real world' cases of attempted shaming that didn't go as expected such as Max Mosley taking a national newspaper to court for claiming his sadomasochistic sex session with 3 sex workers in uniforms was a 'Nazi' reenactment - Mosley didn't care who knew about his sex life but refused (due to his infamous father Oswald Mosley) to have any association with the Nazis.
There's a lot to think about in here. Several times the author suggests that the only way to survive in the modern world is to be totally bland and unnoticeable. At a time when the so-called 'Leader of the Free World' takes to Twitter like a scorned teenager with no behavioural 'filters', this book shows us the importance now, more than ever, of thinking before we speak/tweet/write, and of our responsibility to manage our online and real world reputations.
In this very readable book, Jon Ronson interviews people who have been publicly shamed or, in the case of a teenaged girl who committed suicide, a close relative.
Not all public shaming takes place online. The girl just mentioned felt very humiliated during the trial of the boy who raped her. (I remember reading about this at the time.)
In fact, although the book is readable, it is also very uncomfortable to read. And what makes it even more uncomfortable is the realisation that when you 'call someone out' online as the current jargon has it, you could be the instigator, or one of the participants of, a process in which someone is tried and found guilty by 'the mob' -- sometimes without their even being aware of it at the time. You may object to being labelled as one of a mob, especially if you have only three followers on Twitter. But as Ronson says: "The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche".
Ronson is a very good writer, in that he brings some humour and humility to the subject matter. He also manages to end each chapter on a cliffhanger -- which is quite annoying if you need to get other things done!
There is just one area in which I think Ronson is not forceful enough. He says:
"unpleasant as it will surely be for you, when you see an unfair or an ambiguous shaming unfold, speak up on behalf of the shamed person. A babble of opposing voices – that’s democracy."
It's a natural human instinct, I think, to wish to 'stand up for' someone, but there are two other considerations as well. In my opinion, standing by while someone is accused, tried, found guilty and punished sullies the online community. I know of a couple of online forums in which people are pounced upon for no other reason than expressing a contrary view to the majority. It's impossible to have an intellectual or even a merely intelligent discussion in such a negatively febrile atmosphere.
But even if one were to be completely self-centred in such matters, if you don't support some hapless victim, who do you think will support you when it's your turn? And have no doubt: probably one day it WILL be your turn.
On another note, the way you structured this book, and the way you handled these sometimes quite sensitive topics alongside funny, witty commentary was so engaging and made for a really enjoyable read. Will definitely recommend, and hope people start changing soon. I'm getting really sick of the poison that is social media.
I remember feeling compelled to buy #soyouvebeenpubliclyshamed as I listened.
Well, it took some time but I finally got around to reading it.
I *love* Ronson’s fantastically engaging writing, he draws you into the stories, you hear his voice in his words and you feel what he feels as you read.
That is incredibly important when it comes to this book. If you’ve ever said something on social media and been leapt on by the screaming masses or been one of the faceless shamers hidden by anonymity or for anyone that has ever been on social media; READ THIS BOOK!!
It has been invaluable in many discussions I’ve been having on social media and I have been referencing it weekly if not daily! Even on LinkedIn the bad faith detractors will pick the slightest hole in a comment or a post and come for you with sharpened knives baying for blood.
This is not a guide to save you but will allow you to bring some rationality to the whole thing.
10/10 and all the stars from me
The insights into Justine Sacco in particular are fascinating - a woman who made a stupid joke to a tiny audience, and had her life systematically dismantled as a result. I find that particular section chilling, because almost every day online I will make jokes that make hers look like the kind of somber, respectful, deeply appropriate comment one might give to a grieving widow at a friend's funeral. My only defence against a similar mass shaming is that I choose my audiences carefully, making sure they're comprised of people who will understand the context of the joke, and construct different personas depending on how broad my audience will be. That's an unfortunate state to be in, when even the anonymous must constantly fret about reputation management just in case the wider, ravenous public decide that you're the next meal to be savoured.
Very much recommended.
The story starts on Twitter when Jon find that a couple of kids have created a spambot, an infomorph, in his name who tweets ridiculous things. He asks to meet the boys and asks them to take it down. You can see this meeting on youtube. It makes him think about online identity and how social media has become the public shaming forum of the modern age. Forget the stocks in the village square, only the villagers and possibly the neighbouring village would find out, but now a person can be shamed worldwide. Jon questions if this is right, what has it turned us into and whether or not public humiliation and shame is the worst punishment a person can suffer.
He picks some high profile people who have suffered irreparable damage through public shaming through a misplaced joke or other. People like Justine Sacco who tweeted a joke about not catching AIDS on a trip to Africa because she was white. The girl who posted a photo of herself flipping the bird in the Veteran's Cemetery. Two men who were tweeted about by another conference attendee as they cracked a few sexist jokes between themselves. Max Mosely.
What Ronson asks you to think about is quite complex. Did these people do anything really so bad? Did they deserve to have their entire lives ruined for something they did wrong once? Does experiencing and conceding to the shame make it worse and last longer? Does personal offence take precedence over common sense? Have we lost our sense of humour? Where does the line get drawn between a joke and a genuine sentiment?
There is now a company that works actively to bury your public shame in the internet graveyard - usually page 4/5 of a Google search. Ronson tests this out by asking the Veteran's Cemetery girl to use their services and I think, she breathes easier these days because of the experience.
There never has been a more timely book really and I do think about how quickly a person can be destroyed. How they can never escape it because once it's online, it's there forever. Then I consider those who set out to be destroyed online like Katie Hopkins. Jon Ronson has recently interviewed her. A follow up to this book will need to be written Mr Ronson.
Pretty much all of these controversies are memorable to me. Some of them I took a keener interest in than others. I had certainly heard about, and been incensed by, "Donglegate". I was aware of Justine Sacco's AIDS tweet. I remember the stories about Max Moseley. The one I didn't remember was about Lyndsey Stone and the photo next to the graveyard. I found myself more annoyed by that one than anything, but that may be because I was hearing about it for the first time and so it made more of an impact.
Towards the end of the book Jon says that she "inadvertently" flipped off a military cemetery. He then says that "she had incurred the internet's wrath because she was impudent and playful and foolhardy and outspoken". Throughout the book he shows sympathy with various people who have been publicly shamed and this is a strength of the book. If he wasn't sympathetic and didn't try to show us their more human side, he'd just be perpetuating the problems he's aiming to address. And with Justine and certainly with the donglegate guys I was on board with him. But with Lyndsey Stone, he put her action in a context of them doing funny and "playful" pictures and implied that this was just a continuation of that pattern. But when you approach a military cemetery and see a sign saying "silence and respect", to do otherwise in any way, let alone to preserve that moment, is something most people would consider off limits. Worse still, even her friends told her she was being offensive when she initially posted the picture and she ignored them. She could have avoided the whole thing if she'd just listened. So it's not like Justine or the Donglegate guys where it went straight from them saying something to being crucified. There was actually a warning stage in between which Ronson doesn't really address. He also writes off her behaviour as "foolhardy" without really addressing the fact that this was a highly disrespectful action that she was told wasn't okay and just ignored it. So are we really meant to sympathise with her?
Of course on one level we should and that's really the driving point of Ronson's book. That we all have these bad moments. I know I have and people don't appreciate the impact it has on people's lives to be shamed so publicly. People assume the shaming only lasts as long as the storm on Twitter or wherever (and man am I more glad than ever I don't use that site). But in fact the consequences can last a lifetime. Does Lyndsey Stone deserve that? Does she deserve to have her employment prospects affected for years to come? Of course not, especially as it's stressed that she was good at her job and was doing good for others. But I feel that in her case at least, and perhaps in others, the book shies away from calling bad behaviour what it is. I guess to do so might be considered shaming, but that then raises a more general question about how we judge people's behaviour and how forgiving we should be. I think this book makes a good contribution to that discussion, but certainly isn't the last word.
Regardless, as a portrait of our times and a warning to think about what we do online, it's essential reading.
The internet was once the one weapon we, (ordinary folk), had against solicitor-waving, back-handing cooperations. Now, the loudest are taking charge again, money can manipulate the search engines, and unpopular opinions, (often, reason), are being slammed into the dirt. As Jon Ronson points out, it's wiser to not speak up online.
Overall, 'So You've Been Publicly Shamed' is an unsettling, but enlightening read. One that highlights how devastating a combination of sensationalisation and our ingrained desire to 'help' can be. 'So You've Been Publicly Shamed' cements my opinion that, in this age of social media, Psychology should be a mandatory subject in schools.
It starts well and there are some interesting ideas discussed, especially when he interviews some of the people who have been involved with being shamed or doing the shaming themselves.
I also know that this book has created a fair amount of feedback on social media and it is mostly about the immediacy of social media, resulting in thoughtless comments and similarly thoughtless feedback.
Unfortunately I quickly became fed up with the authors downbeat attitude and the way he seems to present the whole world as a bad place.
He has some great ideas but there is not enough material to make a whole book out of it and it has the feeling of being stretched out.
Even with these 'digital age' inflictions, this is the 4th Jon Ronson book I've read and they're all equally accessible and fascinating.
If you use social media, this book is arguably a must read for those who want to survive in the modern age of online shaming.
Give it a go, it's a page turning eye opener.