Ronson starts with an anecdote about finding a Twitter profile tweeting mundane oddities in his name, actually a spambot set up by some academics who, despite his requests, refused to take it down. A humiliated Ronson orchestrated a vengeance by recording an interview with the academics, which he posted online and, as they were swallowed up in a storm of online criticism, he brought them to smacking justice. It is this first-hand experience that makes Ronson’s writing powerful; he knows what he is talking about. It is a horrible read, but we must experience its horror nonetheless. The book is an intervention of sorts.
Early on, starting with the shaming of Abigail Gilpin in 1942, Ronson gives a history of public punishment in America. Of how it was practised, enjoyed, chronicled by the media; and eventually put an end to, not because it was ineffective, but because it was too brutal. He talks about LeBon’s theory of group madness, notes curious stories like that of Judge Ted Poe, who was known to dole out publicly humiliating punishments to criminals instead of fines or jail time. Alongside the interesting are disturbing incidents like that of Justine Sacco’s ill-advised humour and the vitriol fired at her. Read this NY Times adaptation from the book, titled “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.”
The book has quite a lot of quotes and very few paraphrases. It helps that Ronson never sounds preachy or self-important, and manages somehow to tone down the twisted with a farcical effect, without taking away from the gravity of the content. More than anything, he does a thorough job of examining the subject. I don’t want to mention more examples than I already have; for more I recommend reading the book. It is accessible, thought-provoking and highly relevant.
I left the Massachusetts Historical Society, took out my phone, and asked Twitter, ‘Has Twitter become a kangaroo court?’
‘Not a kangaroo court,‘ someone replied quite tersely. ‘Twitter still can’t impose real sentences. Just commentary. Only unlike you, Jon, we aren’t paid for it.’
Was he right? It felt like a question that really needed to be answered because it didn’t seem to be crossing any of our minds to wonder whether whichever person we had just shamed was OK or in ruins. I suppose that when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be. The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche.
4 thoughts on “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson”
I saw an interview with Ronson.
This book seems fascinating and I want to read it.
I have seen a lot of this stuff go on with people who use Twitter and have chatted with some targets of shaming. It is frightening and mind boggling.
I have heard of Ronson and that first incident. As Brian said, this is a frightening side of internet society. On the other hand, I see a blog culture where participants are very mindful of how they interact, as a response to all the malice; there is always a counter-reaction, it seems. These days, it is easy to get disheartened, but I do see a lot of goodness, too. I want to believe, I guess. 🙂
I haven't heard of this book before- it does sound interesting. I like that you enjoyed it and it is thought provoking. Definitely a relevant topic!
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Brian, it is frightening to read all the victims' perspectives.
Viktoria, So do I. 🙂
Jess, thanks for stopping by! I'm not sure I 'enjoyed' it but it was really thought-provoking.