So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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

‘For the past three years, Jon Ronson has been immersing himself in the world of modern-day public shaming—meeting famous shamees, shamers, and bystanders who have been impacted. This is the perfect time for a modern-day Scarlet Letter—a radically empathetic book about public shaming, and about shaming as a form of social control. It has become such a big part of our lives it has begun to feel weird and empty when there isn’t anyone to be furious about. Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is okay or in ruins. What’s it doing to them? What’s it doing to us?’ GoodReads.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is another tour de force from Jon Ronson, whose writing I will never tire of.

After his identity is assumed, and then taken down due to pressure from the public masses rallying to Ronson’s call, he decides to investigate the nature of public shaming. Through this journey he meets victims of public shaming. Some fared well, overcoming their shaming, others not so well. It’s an emotional mixed bag, and interested how on the surface you can easily find someone worthy of their punishment – until you discover more about their personality, their life, before and after the fact. The psychology of how to handle public shaming is fascinating too, although I think a high level of income makes it easier to deal with.

Ronson looks at shaming from different angles, from the more positive to the negative. Some of the individuals he spoke to benefitted from shaming – expecially within the criminal group interviewed. Whereas those humiliated on Twitter/the internet did not fair well at all. Much like a hearty income, accountability and a defensive nature were factors of how long the repercussions of humiliation could last. People like Max Mosley – open and accountable, have done far better than people like Jonah Lehrer, who denied and became hostile.

It was interesting reading about the dark side of social media and the internet. Twitter is a force for good and evil, and much like mob mentality, can turn us all into vicious human beings. Separate our minds from the reality of the person who is being shamed and it is surprising how cruel we can become. We see this evident in Trolling, when trolls have apologised for their actions.

Yes, people make ignorant and stupid mistakes, but they should they be humiliated? Surely educating from ignorance, accepting penance, should be our reaction?

Alongside those those who shame and are shamed, Ronson wonders how much money Google makes from shaming. Should Google take measures to ensure advertisers cannot make money from shaming?

Using a keyword of a publically humiliated person to sell your wares is unlikely to rank well. Such is the algorithm that gets your ads shown. It’s a mixture of keyword, ad text, landing page relevance etc.. that equate to a quality score which dictates the volume and placement of which your advert is shown. Organically, which is where Ronson argues Google made their money, having top ranking pages detailing humiliation, someone is bound to bound to have clicked on an ad while searching for said person.

(I think this may be the first time books and my career have merged.)

I think my main issue with this argument, was that it leaned away from the human aspects Ronson spent the majority of the book analysing. And while I do not think companies (or Google) should be allowed to abuse Google’s algorithm and make money from individual misfortune – it is was a frustrating point (for me) to leave till near the end. Perhaps I needed more on the subject.

However, it was interesting that a revenue from shaming could be calculated.

Concluding, Ronson quotes a friend who feels as though they need to censor themselves on Twitter, and not post darker humour. It rang true with my own use of Twitter. When I first joined I felt a larger freedom to be a darker with my wit, but I certainly wouldn’t post silly tweets now. Mostly due to being less ignorant, but also in fear of being misunderstood. Though I wonder if you ever have to explain a joke, is it funny?

Have you read this or any of Ronson’s other books?

5 thoughts on “Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

  1. Twitter can be a dangerous place at times, I’ve learned. However, i’ve joined a “movement” of sorts for #nomorenegativity and it’s helping so far. We stay out of way of the online “scandals” which book bloggers seem to find themselves embroiled in of late.


  2. I am super interested to read this book. Because I think we have to reach a place as a culture where people can come back from doing something that gets them publicly shamed, and a huge part of that has to be the person apologizing sincerely and fully, and finding a way to make amends. Maybe it’s starry-eyed of me to think that’s possible, with the internet as blame-y as it can be, but I would like it to be. Does Ronson talk about that?


    1. I don’t think it makes you starry-eyed at all. Some do come back, it does depend on the person. I think it also depends on who the next big ‘mistake’ is as well. A big part of what Ronson looks at is the reaction to the people who do the stupid things, and how we chose to forgive them (or not).


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