Book Review: ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ by Jon Ronson

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Public shaming is big business these days. I don’t mean in financial terms, but in terms of there being a huge amount of it; an appetite for it that is in some cases insatiable. Everybody seems to be at it. Be it disguised as so-called banter or outright abuse, people are into shaming others left, right and centre. On the likes of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook it seems the keyboard warriors are constantly waiting to hurt someone. Gone are the days of writing to your MP or the classic ‘Dear BBC…’ letter. Nowadays, what starts as a throw away remark often ends with the person doing the typing being hunted down and targeted with the most vile abuse. If you’re name is trending on Twitter, It’s generally not a good thing. In all likelihood, you’d better watch out.

Ronson tackles internet shaming by exploring life changing stories where a mixture of public figures and everyday people have made what they thought was the right decision or simply a silly joke before finding themselves the target of hideous abuse. It might have been a photo or an ill-judged remark, but it opened up a whole new negative world to the person who pressed ‘Tweet’ or ‘send’. While I was fully aware of the existence of the so-called internet trolls, I didn’t realise that there were entire communities of them, getting together online to, in a sense, hunt people down. And while some victims of such trolling are really quite deserving, Ronson focuses, on the whole, on far more innocent victims.

‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ explores a decidedly dark world and is a well written investigation by an intrepid, determined writer. Ronson doesn’t judge. He is reflective about the problems encountered and about how he himself has reacted to such mistakes in the past. For him, people make mistakes and it’s important that we aren’t too quick to judge too harshly.

Throughout the book we are introduced to people like Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco and an IT worker called ‘Hank’ (not his real name); all in many ways ordinary people with one thing in common. They’d made a mistake. Some of their mistakes were more honest than others and all probably deserved some kind of condemnation. However, all of their mistakes would change their lives beyond recognition. All would be publicly shamed in the most horrible of ways. They would be threatened. They would be horrendously abused. They would be left to pick up the pieces of their lives, jobless and hopeless in some cases because of an ill-judged joke or a photograph.

‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ is a harrowing read at times. You wonder what you’d do and how you’d feel in the position of someone like Lindsey Stone, who posted a photo taken by her friend, explaining ‘It’s just us being douchebags’ only to find herself jobless and quickly on the end of a nationwide hate campaign. I mean, we’ve all posted photos and remarks while thinking pretty much the same, right? The book gives us an insight into a side of society that many of us may not have known existed. The terror created by online shaming sites is laid bare, making this an incredibly interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking read.

In the end Ronson himself is the victim of a public shaming, giving the book an extra sense of authenticity and leaving the reader in no doubt whatsoever that no one is immune to the phenomenon of public shaming. This is an excellent book and a compelling read. It may not be for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re a regular Twitter user, but I’d thoroughly recommend that you pick it up and give it a go.

Verdict – I’d give ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ 4 out of 5 stars!

 

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