Full House Reading Challenge – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson


Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Culture

Narrative Style; First person, journalistic

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperbackunknown

Published: 2015

Synopsis: The story starts with Ronson discovering a Spambot posting as himself on twitter. He uses the righteous indignation of the Internet to get it taken down. He then begins to look at the phenomenon of online shaming. This leads him to talk to some of the people who have suffered badly at the hands of the Internet – Justine Sacco, Adria Richards and Lindsey Stone, for example – and discusses the best ways to survive shame. 

Reading Challenge – Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Non-Fiction

I was interested in this book for two reasons – the first was Ronson himself, an always enjoyable writer who tackles interesting subjects, the second was the subject matter. It has been with increasing distaste and disappointment I have watched such shaming unfold online. Unlike Ronson, I have never taken part. It is particularly disgusting to see the way the comments go when women are the object in question. No one deserves to be told they should be raped and abused. It is horrific.

Ronson first gets involved in the subject of online shaming when he uses the power of the Internet to get some researchers to take down the spambot they had made in his name. The comments turned nasty and Ronson won. They took down the spambot. Ronson cites early examples of the shaming of corporations into treating their customers better or newspapers being slapped on the wrist for printing homophobic or sexist stories. This was a new phenomenon and Ronson decided to investigate.

There is a difference between shaming corporations and shaming individuals although the basic impulse may be the same. (Ronson suggests that people think they are doing good in both situations.) This is what unfolds in the rest of the book as Ronson speaks to Justine Sacco (she of the I can’t get AIDS, I’m white tweet), Jonah Lehrer (who made up quotes in his books), Lindsey Stone (who mocked the sign for silence and respect at Arlington National Cemetry, to name but a few. Most of them were guilty of stupidity at most. Lehrer was more difficult to sympathise with but even then, you couldn’t help feeling that no one should have to read what people posted on the live twitter feed while he was trying to apologise. It is certainly true that a stupid tweet or photo should not still be impacting your life a year later.

Ronson also looks for solutions and ways to survive. He discusses the role of shame in a prison environment, visits a workshop for Radical Honesty and discusses the historical origins of shaming. All of which is very interesting and told in Ronson’s trademark style. However, what he can’t offer is any sort of solution or ways to avoid being shamed. And it certainly seems like this is something that is here to stay. In the Afterword, Ronson describes being accused of being racist for supporting Justine Sacco and of being a misogynist because of a misjudged comment about rape. His final advice is to the reader is to make sure that they don’t stay silent if they think that someone is being shamed, get involved and stand up for them. Empathy is the solution to shame. And it is true that we can’t leave the Internet to the trolls and lowlifes who would say that they would see someone raped or murdered because they made an ill-judged decision.

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