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So You've Been Publicly Shamed

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For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job. People are using shame as a form of social control.

290 pages, Hardcover

First published March 9, 2015

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About the author

Jon Ronson

30 books5,276 followers
Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His work includes the international bestsellers Them: Adventures With Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a major motion picture starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges.

A contributor to The Guardian, Ronson is the author of the columns "Human Zoo" and "Out of the Ordinary". He writes and presents the BBC Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson On...

For Channel 4, Jon has made a number of films including the five-part series Secret Rulers of the World and Tottenham Ayatollah. His most recent documentaries are Reverend Death (Channel 4), Citizen Kubrick (More4) and Robbie Williams and Jon Ronson Journey to the Other Side (Radio 4).

In the US, he is a contributor to Public Radio International's This American Life.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,289 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
December 15, 2018
I thought this was fascinating.

It's not a perfect book. In fact, Ronson goes wandering down a number of paths that don't seem that relevant to the main topic - such as that whole section with the shame-eradication group - and yet it is still quite fun to go on the journey with him. I guess, in the end, there is just something so morbidly fascinating about public-shaming and embarrassment.

The resurgence of public-shaming on social media really interests me. As Ronson points out, public punishments were phased out over a century ago in the United States and Western Europe, but they have recently been making a comeback.

I've heard it described as "vigilante justice" and "herd mentality" (I think I might have called it the latter myself), but whatever you call it, you've probably seen it in some form or other. Someone is outed online for saying something dumb or controversial, for plagiarizing, for whatever, and suddenly it blows up. Twitter piles on and destroys the person. Jobs have been lost; lives have been ruined.

It leaves a lot of people feeling conflicted because, on the one hand, it can be used for good. Social media users rally together and take on giant companies or powerful individuals. The inspirational taglines write themselves: "Together, anything is possible."

But what does someone really deserve for making a bad taste joke online? To lose their job and livelihood? To never be given a chance at their career again? Rape threats? Ronson goes to meet a variety of people who have been publicly-shamed in a number of different ways. He then takes it further and speaks with psychiatrists, governors and law enforcement officials.

What is interesting is the conclusion he reaches about the damage caused by public-shaming. There's a very good reason we no longer see value in publicly humiliating criminals, and Ronson looks into that here. A very interesting book. It's scary that we don't look poised to take his advice anytime soon.

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Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
December 10, 2019

Do you remember that story about the woman flying to Africa--the one who tweeted a joke about how she was white and so wouldn't get AIDS there--the one who, after waking from her nap on the plane, found her joke had outraged the entire internet, that her job was lost and that her life was destroyed?

Ronson uses this case, and others like it, to investigate the process of public shaming in our high tech age. He shows us what a devastating and merciless process it can be, and how it is not done by them, but by us, and--worse--that it is often something that makes us feel virtuous when we do it. After all, haven't we merely exposed another racist, another snob, another homophobe, another chauvinist? Aren't we--virtually, effortlessly, anonymously--keeping up the good fight?

In a score of revealing interviews and vignettes, Ronson gives us glimpses into the lives of people who have been subjected to various forms of public shaming, its immediate pain and long-term consequences. Among them are a woman who mocked an Arlington Cemetery "Silence and Respect" sign, the son of a prominent WW II British fascist who was filmed spouting German during an S&M scenario, a journalist who made up a Bob Dylan quote, and a young drunk-driver forced by a judge to wear an "I am a Murderer" sign.

There are other interview subjects too, who provide context: the aforementioned judge, the college researcher involved in a simulated prison study, and the head of a firm who claims that through the use of innocuous tweets and bland blog posts he can move your shameful crimes so far down the Google results list that no one--except for the pathologically obsessed--will ever encounter them again.

As usual, Ronson writes a sharp, humorous prose that is also touched with compassion. Like each of his books, it is that rare thing in journalism: an easy read, but a thoughtful read too.
Profile Image for Bibi.
1,282 reviews3,263 followers
April 24, 2021
Many thanks to Emma for spotlighting this book.

A joke that went too far

A few years ago, en route from New York to South Africa, a woman sent a series of tweets (excerpts are from the book, emphasis by me):

"Weird German dude, you're in first class, it's 2014 get some deodorant- inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals"

Then, at Heathrow:

"Chili- cucumber sandwiches- bad teeth. Back in London"

Then before boarding the final leg:

"Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding, I'm white"

A few hours later, her life imploded.

And it probably might remain that way. Because the public never forget, there are no second chances given in the court of public opinion. Life, as she knew it, was over. Possibly forever.

Admittedly her jokes were in poor taste-reprehensible even- but in the court of public opinion via FB and Twitter, her penance, as far I could surmise from the book, is that she lives with the shame. Forever.

A life destroyed

This woman's story- in addition to a multitude of other cases- forms the premise of So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Politicians, authors, porn stars, ordinary folks. Whether caught in a lie or a senseless act of their own making.

Consequently, Jon Ronson set out to chronicle their lives, a post-mortem of sorts. Did they ever recover? If so, who and why?

Truth to Power? Social Justice? Or maybe simple vindictiveness?

My question is: What have YOU and I posted to social media and could it stand close scrutiny?

Overall, the author handled the victims and subject matter with compassion and I dare say this will have you reviewing your participation in any form of online shaming.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,482 followers
July 31, 2015
Update (I can't resist):

Let shame follow this dentist even unto the last drilling and the last filling. & when he crosses the great divide, let all the animals he shot be waiting for him



Here is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo who’s cherry-picked a few recent spasms of shaming for our delectation and schadenfreude. Like a freak show, we can gawp and shudder in delicious horror.

It felt like we were soldiers in a war on other people’s flaws

The idea is this. In the olden days public shame was part of the judicial process:

but that was abolished in 1839. And now… it’s BACK. Public shaming has been revived and is in full swing on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. People are making mistakes and they are getting EXTRA-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT doled out by ourselves, armed with only our keyboards and mices and tablets and iphones. We – us – are now the angry crowd of pitchfork peasants. We shove the miscreants in the stocks and pillories and pelt them with three month old cabbages and decaying turnips.


Here is the example – the Awful Example – of Justine Sacco. Here is what public shame and utter humiliation does. She was a New York PR employee of some hot shit American conglomerate called IAC which I never heard of. On 20 December 2013 she was off on holiday to South Africa. She used Twitter and had around 30 followers. She was at Heathrow airport waiting for the plane to Cape Town and tweeted

Cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. Back in London!

That was the level – unfunny mild insults about British people. Hmph! But then :

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

Jon Ronson says “she chuckled to herself, pressed SEND and wandered around the airport for half an hour, sporadically checking Twitter. ‘I got nothing,’ she told me. ‘No replies.’”
Then she went off on her 11 hour flight and couldn’t access Twitter. While she was in the plane her tweet exploded. Here’s how much it exploded: in October 2013 she was googled 30 times. In November 2013 she was googled 30 times. Between 20 and 31 December 2013 she was googled 1,220,000 times.

No words for that horribly disgusting, racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.

Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox news.

From IAC, her employers : This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question is currently unreachable.

Fascinated by the Justine Sacco train wreck. It’s global and apparently she’s still on the plane.

All I want for Christmas is to see Justine Sacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox

In fact her deeply tasteless comment was an attempt to spoof white ignorance. “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”

The world did not get the joke. (“I can’t fully grasp the misconception that’s happened round the world”.) She had to cut short her holiday. “People were threatening to go on strike at the hotels I was booked into if I showed up”. IAC fired her. (In this book people are getting fired for perceived-to-be offensive tweets right and left.) Jon Ronson puts his finger on the reason for the vast avalanche of insult which poured down on Justine Sacco in the last weeks of December 2013:

Dragging down Justine Sacco felt like dragging down every rich white person who’s ever gotten away with making a racist joke because they could.


So JR looks at various horror stories of this type, of lives destroyed by thoughtlessness. Here’s another example. Two women were guiding a party of disabled adults around Washington for the charity they worked at. They liked to make spoof photos, like smoking in front of No Smoking signs, juvenile stuff like that. They went to Arlington Cemetery and just took leave of their senses. One posed in front of the sign which says “Silence and Respect” – she pretended she was yelling and was giving the finger as well. What humour – it’s the opposite of silence and respect, see? I get it! So did all of Facebook when they insanely put the photo up, and the woman in the photo was fired

and spent a year afraid to leave the house.


JR examines examples of people who have been horribly shamed but were NOT destroyed. A good example in Britain is Max Mosley. He has had a fair amount of shame to bear in his life – son of Oswald Mosley, who was head of the British Union of Fascists and a supporter of Hitler. Max became head of Formula One racing and he liked to attend S&M parties. One of which was filmed and splattered over a tabloid newspaper here in the UK. There he was whipping girls and being whipped by girls:


… At one point the wrinkled 67-year-old yells “she needs more of ze punishment!” while brandishing a LEATHER STRAP over a brunette’s naked bottom. Then the lashes rain down as Mosley counts them out in German.

Within a year Max had successfully sued the paper for breach of privacy and appeared on a few general political discussion shows in the UK. It turned out that the public couldn’t care less about S&M orgies. He was unshamed.

This inspires Jon to visit Kink Studios to see if he can answer the question : is the porn industry populated by people immune to shame? Unfortunately he gets frankly rubbishy answers and does not pursue this line. But it does make me wonder – what do the models in even the anodyne disrobings on the most vanilla of porn sites think about their intimate parts captured forever by the internet’s powers of recall? Assuming they don’t stay in the porn biz for life, does this ever have any repercussions in the private or public sphere?


This book is nothing more than lightweight journalism but JR has a knack – just when you wonder what this or that person in the story had to say, what was their angle, what happened to her afterwards – he’s anticipated you and he’s emailed or skyped or twittered the person and he’s got the reply. Jon interviews James Gilligan (author of Violence: A National Epidemic – read and reviewed!) who says that if shaming people worked prison would work and no one would reoffend, but it doesn’t work. In the end, says Jon, this has been a book about people who didn’t do very much wrong and got vengeance and anger rained down on them. Vengeance and anger and shaming appears to be our default position, here on the internet. I would have liked JR to discuss more why men get shamed in a forensic manner, such as for plagiarism, and women get shamed in a personal manner which very rapidly descends into misogynistic rape & death threats (always the ol’ rape ‘n’ death threats) – he mentions this in a couple of lines then veers off.

But that’s what this book is – filled with interesting ideas and questions, and leaping from one internet zone to another with the alacrity of an Olympic gold medallist gibbon – from Twitter to 4chan to instagram and back again. He didn’t ask us on Goodreads if we had any good stories, though. If he had, we would have collectively put our hands behind our head and gazed at the ceiling and said

Well, now, there was once this retired librarian called Ginnie Jones…


Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
November 14, 2016
I love it when I hear about a book, automatically have to go out and get it, and then can't put it down. It's a rare experience, but it's a really potent and exciting one. You're thrown into something brand new and days later emerge, drawing breath, crawling out of your book cave, victorious.

This book examined, ultimately to me, compassion online. I very much think of the internet as a wild west. It's so new, it's constantly evolving, and there aren't any real agreed upon rules and regulations. This book starts on that path, on that conversation, of "what kind of place do we want the internet to be, and how do we make it that?"
Profile Image for MischaS_.
785 reviews1,344 followers
February 24, 2020
Last October I read The Psychopath Test, I had no idea what to expect, and I was blown away. And Goodreads being the amazing place it is, I had people recommending me to read this one.

It sounded very interesting, so, I went and bought it straight away!

And let me tell, I maybe liked it even more than I did the Psychopath Test? It might be due to the fact that I already read Jon Ronson's book, and it made more sense this time around. It was easier to see how it all connected. Plus, I already knew it was not a fiction story. (Yeah, I had a bit of dumb moment with the Psychopath test.)

The story was great; I have to say that I generally stay away from Twitter because I always get angry there and/or disappointed with the world. So, I did not know any of those stories the book mentioned. It was all new to me. I'm honestly thinking about reading up more about some of them because it will be very interesting to compare the initials feelings which I had after reading about them in this book with those I'll have then.
I felt sorry for several people.
I wanted to ask what they were thinking.
One broke my heart.
Some "culprits" were not exactly sympathetic to me.
And I had a very hard time feeling anything toward them.
Then, they were those people who inspired me a bit. They looked the shame in the eyes and remained unbowed.

“As soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed,” he said, “the whole thing crumbles.”

“I suppose that when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.”

I liked the complexity of the story. How those people were shamed. How they dealt with it. What's behind the "public shaming mentality". Also, how differently men and women are usually shamed, which I never really realised but thinking now about it, it's pretty terrifying truth. And I have to say that I enjoyed the little tidbits where Ronson explained how he identified with those who shamed them.

"I consider myself a social justice person. It was my people, abusing our power,[...]"

It was not a crucial part of the book. But it's still my favourite.

Anyway, the important question is which Ronson book I should read next?

December 17, 2017
I've finished the book, my least favourite of Ronson's. It was almost in two halves. The first was interesting the latter part, perhaps not a half but a third, was boring. It didn't finish as much as peter out. This is a bit of a long review because I've picked out the three people in the book most affected by being shamed.

There were a lot of cranky individuals featured. The most interesting being the serial liar (fabricator, maker-up of quotations, whatever you want) and self-plagiarist Jonah Lehrer. He was a genius-child, flavour-of-the-month pop scientist/sociologist a la Malcolm Gladwell but got caught and shamed. He did apologise publicly but not a real apology.

The purpose of an apology is not to excuse but to heal. Apologies that begin "I want to say I'm sorry but..." are excuses. And his excuse was that neurologically some of the most brilliant yadayadayada. And he was paid $20,000 dollars to make it.

Still, I find his punishment extraordinary. He remains in the wilderness (a nice one, the Hollywood hills) and without any credibility. The New Yorker et al should get over themselves. He didn't kill anyone, he didn't plot to blow up some public building, he told some lies. Give the man employment, he's a good writer. A public shaming shouldn't mean a life sentence.

Justine Sacco is different. She liked making politically-incorrect jokes on Twitter which betrayed, if nothing else, she felt superior in her well-off, White privileged position. It doesn't mean she really was a racist who hated mentally-challenged people, but it does mean she didn't give a damn how they felt about her jokes, because the tweets were aimed at other rich white privileged people who would understand them. Still it was hard to understand "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

Actually Sacco's main crime is that she is stupid beyond belief. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. What person, a top PR executive working with multinationals no less, would think that her tweets wouldn't spread. So why did Jon Ronson, alone, swallow her story of her trying to raise people's consciousness of the poor blacks in Africa and the dread plague of AIDS? Especially considering she had never knowingly tweeted a socially-responsible tweet. One of her other offensive tweets was "I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night." Maybe Ronson fancied her? I can't think of any other explanation for his excusing her 100%.

She can't get employment, same as Lehrer. She has been cast out from society and employment for ever more. This is a ridiculous overreaction by employers.

Lindsay Stone liked spoof pictures and posted an offensive pic of Facebook, it's here the finger. After the brouhaha died down, she was jobless and depressed and as part of Ronson's book, he got a company to spend hundreds of thousands rehabilitating her public image on Google and the internet. Of course, Ronson's book has brought all the stories to the fore again. He has a lot to answer for.

This public shaming and these overreactions all seem to be American. The only British one was Mosley who liked having Nazi orgies set in concentration camps German orgies with prostitutes in officers' uniforms. One of them photographed one and sold it to the scurrilous and now defunct News of the World. Mosley was a semi-public figure as head of Formula 1 Racing, but he was more known as the son of Sir Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana Mitford, founder of the British Fascist Party. Hitler had been best man at their wedding. Anyway Moseley sued the paper saying it was a German orgy but not a Nazi one. He won. The British public were amused rather than disgusted and no public disgrace came to him. The Daily Mail, rag of "Mr. & Mrs. What is Great Britain coming to?, Home Counties" and other right-wing, looking-for-offence British people tried to stir up trouble when Google was ordered to take out the orgy pics. But you can see from the comments, few cared.

It's all to do with the internet. People hide behind their screen names so they can say what they like. They can be malicious, they can join vicious mobs, they feel safe. They like the idea of ruining other people's lives and it is that that keeps the victims from employment. Who are these holier-than-thou people? Are there any of whose lives could hold up to the forensic scrutiny of a journalist determined to show that we had done some things we aren't proud of? None of us.

Many of these shamed people could get jobs but the companies are afraid that the bullies will start up again on Facebook, Twitter et al and bring negative publicity on their companies. Rapists and murderers who were low profile and not featured in the major media have better prospects than these people. There is something really wrong with society when this is the result.

I think Ronson has made a lot of money out of this book, and brought their shaming back into the public eye again. I wonder how he feels about that? Laughing all the way to the bank, as the saying goes, no doubt.

3.5 stars. Grudgingly given.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.7k followers
December 4, 2017
A book that's incredibly relevant and that I would recommend! All the information and examples provided were very interesting.

I can say that, as a youtuber, it's definitely a fear of mine. Saying something, which will be misinterpreted and being "publicly shamed" for it. It sounds extreme but some minor occurrence happens on a daily basis!
Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48.6k followers
October 1, 2017
I straight up NEVER read nonfiction. I don't like it. It's boring. Where's the story? Is someone going to get punched? Anyone? Where is the writing style that doesn't make me want to shove a fork through my eye? I mean, these are all things I need..

However. Everyyyyyy once in a while, an exception comes along.


This book is so fun!!!!!

It is not only fun; it is interesting. It is not only interesting; it is funny. It is not only funny; it is smart. In short, it is everything I need to have a good time while also feeling very pretentious and smart and patting myself on the back for eight consecutive weeks for reading anything with more literary merit than a young adult contemporary romance.


So this book is about the recent (? semi-recent) trend of publicly shaming people on the Internet. Which is my favorite thing. Watching racists get sucker punched by the entirety of Twitter is my, like, religion. I pray at the altar of screenshots, you know? #JustMillennialThings.

So I was very curious to see if this book could convince me that this ultimate form of technological vigilante justice in any way a bad thing.

And it, um, kinda didn’t? And not for lack of trying. It definitely got me convinced that, like, hey, maybe we don’t need to ruin some of these people’s entire lives. And there was exactly one person in this book who I thought was totally undeserving of the shit storm she formally received, out of maybe 8 examples.

But I read this book shortly before Charlottesville, and it’s hard to look at the hardworking people of Twitter outing literal Nazis and be like, Hey. Bad. Because it isn’t. Vigilante justice can be sh*tty, but I’m not opposed to any anti-Nazi action. Any. Try me.


I didn’t feel shamed by Ronson (buh dum ch), though, or anything. So it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book.

What diiiiiiid detract from my enjoyment was Ronson casually, easily, you know, just...totally shattering his authorial credibility to me as a reader. Fun stuff! But seriously, this whole book is about delving into people’s pasts to find out the things they’re most opposed to people finding out. Which is already thin ice. But there’s a moment when Ronson makes really clear that the only privacy he gives a sh*t about is his own. (BOOOOOO, shouts the audience.)

My guy Ronson (and I seriously did love his voice throughout this So Much, which makes this heartbreaking moment even more tragic) attends a class on how not to feel shame. This class begins with every person in it going around and stating something about themselves that they don’t want the other students to know. Ronson includes every person’s answer, which is...maybe not necessary. EXCEPT GUESS WHOSE ANSWER IS NOT INCLUDED. YEAH. YOU GUESSED IT. IT’S RONSON’S.

What kind of lack of integrity…

So I don’t know, man. I initially rated this five stars, because I read it in a day and had so much fun with it and also my brain felt all big afterward and it made me so pretentious that I wore a monocle for the next 8 consecutive business days, but there’s no way I can give that type of action five stars. That sh*t is NOT COOL JON.

But will I be reading other Ronson sh*t? Hell yeah I will.

Bottom line: A crazy good book with One Annoying Thing.




i seriously couldn't put it down, and there exists a very limited number of nonfiction books i find un-put-down-able.

i am certain not a single one of you cares about my feelings on this book, and yet i will share them.

review to comeee
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
916 reviews13.9k followers
November 1, 2020
this book turned out to be a hodge podge of case studies on people who were "cancelled" without offering any guidance on how we go forward or improve, or even if we need to improve or if this is just a natural eventuality of being on social media. also, i think this book missed the component of talking about accountability on the behalf of people who are called out. he seemed to side with the people called out an say that their punishment went too far, which is true in a lot of cases, but there was no discussion on how the internet now rightfully holds people accountable for their harmful takes. idk.
Profile Image for Carina.
125 reviews39 followers
May 4, 2015
Okay my book club people, close your screen here and read no further. Walk away now, before you tar and feather me, and super glue the latest Franzen to my nose...

Started well, and as the back cover promised, had "funny and thoughtful" moments. But - there were parts that made me angry at the constructed and biased outcomes, there were holes so wide a road train could have done a 3 point turn, and anytime Ronson got close to touching on something important but complex, Jon Ronson ran away fast if the journey wasn't where he wanted his book go.
There were whole chapters that did nothing (the shame workshop ran by an unqualified looney was worthless - gee, who saw that coming?). Scientific studies were used sparingly and selectively. People were consulted as "experts" when they clearly were not, but Ronson obviously needed someone else to take ownership of his unsubstantiated conclusion (yes Mercedes, I'm thinking of you)(can't imagine an underground hacker is easy to track down and verify either). Ironically there was even a section that served purely to shame a person Ronson clearly didn't like, and a Teflon coated implication that the lack of women in IT was their own fault, for overreacting to "jokes".

The biggest, most glaring issue Ronson uncovered was an important one - *why* are women "shamed" (although abused/attacked/bullied/trolled would be more apt descriptions) so horrendously for minor misdemeanors? And yet this discovery was simply acknowledged and barely addressed, let alone explored. Obviously a book that ventures into "feminist land" isn't good for sales, and Ronson ran away fast.

It's clear Ronson wants to present a lightweight, humorous, and yet, somehow, still important read. The first two objectives appear to have killed off the third.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,137 reviews8,151 followers
February 6, 2016
I have a lot of thoughts about this book because it was SO incredibly thought-provoking. I felt like every chapter brought on a major revelation or had a great nugget of wisdom to mull over. If anything it made me realize how incredibly powerful shame can be, as if we aren't all aware of that fact already. I doubt you could find a single person who hadn't been, at one time or another, shamed in some way in front of many people. But imagining how that must feel and then actually hearing from people who had that happen to them on a massive scale--like Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, Lindsey Stone, and more--was fascinating. I definitely have more empathy for people who suffer the consequences of the internet's ruthlessness. Everyone from 16 to 60 years old should read this.

One big takeaway for me from this book was the idea that apologies aren't a one-way street, even if that's how the public wants to treat them. Apologies are accepted or rejected for a reason. When someone apologizes, you have a choice to forgive them and accept their apology. And if the public is calling for someone to own up to something and apologize, they should be willing to accept it and move on. But today, especially on the internet, everyone wants the apology without the reciprocative acts of forgiveness. Just something to think about while you wait for this book to come in the mail, because you all should definitely read it. 4 stars
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,450 reviews7,564 followers
September 28, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Chicago commercial photographers

Most of you are probably already familiar with the concept of public shaming. Heck, we see it on Goodreads all the time. The author who chooses to get spammy or games the ratings system with sockpuppets or trolls reviews when someone dares to bash their “special snowflake” is quickly drawn and quartered by users. If you’re an American you were probably even forced to read about public shamings back in high school . . .

Chicago commercial photographers
(^^^^This version was sooooo much better than the original)

What you may not know is how prevalent public shaming was as a form of punishment back in the olden days. While the practice of slapping a Scarlet A on someone’s clothing went by the wayside hundreds of years ago and public airing of grievances became a practice reserved strictly for Festivus, Al Gore’s invention of the interwebs brought back public shaming in a B.I.G. way.

With today’s handy-dandy technology and the anonymity that the internet provides, the world has become full of Keyboard Commandos . . .

“With social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people. What rush was overpowering us at times like this? What were we getting out of it?”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a book that covers a handful of “shamings” and the aftershocks the publicly shamed experienced while trying to get their lives back together. It covers everything from plagiarists to stories of those with good intentions gone wrong due to made up facts and studies, but the sections I found most intriguing were those of jokes gone bad. If you have been on the internet more than a nanosecond, you’ve probably seen someone get butthurt. It’s easy to read something the wrong way when tone is absent. Thus was the case with “The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World” . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

and Lindsay Stone . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

While it’s obvious that both of the above were cases of using poor taste, both of these women’s lives were ruined leaving the author to note:

“There must have been among [their] public shamers a lot of people who chose to willfully misunderstand it for some reason.”

I agree. I mean, as distasteful as they may have been I think most people “got” both of the jokes, and while I agree it’s up to these individual’s employers to determine whether or not they want to keep these women on their payroll, I have to ask why it’s not okay for someone with less than 200 social media contacts to post something insensitive without getting flamed by millions, while Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made millions doing the same????

Chicago commercial photographers
(FYI: In case you are Anne live in a cave and are unfamiliar with the program, the correct answer was “NAGGERS.”)

We then flip the script in order to tackle the issue of a shaming which backfired . . .

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While Justine Sacco and Lindsay Stone clearly put themselves out on display for judgment, the two gentlemen in the previous photo did not. Not only did Adria Richards take it upon herself to publicly shame the two tech convention attendees when she happened to overhear them making a private “dongle” joke which resulted in them losing their jobs, she also ended up losing hers when she unintentionally publicly shamed herself whenever she opened her mouth . . . .

“Have you ever heard that thing, ‘men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them’?” she asked.

I told Adria that people might consider that an overblown thing to say. She had, after all, been in the middle of a tech conference with EIGHT HUNDRED bystanders.

“Sure,” Adria responded. “And those people would probably be white and they would probably be male.”

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Richards went out of her way time and time again to prove that ALL things male were most definitely not A-Okay with her, which led to something Richards should have really been afraid of – actual threats on her person and a DDoS attack on her company’s servers which resulted in her termination.

And that is where So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed got terrifying. While I believe Richards seriously made a mountain out of a molehill and deserved to be fired for being a public asshat, the nearly immediate response of the internet shamer to threaten a woman shaming victim with some sort of physical harm, up to and including rape, as a form of public degradation while never mentioning the same with respect to a man was nauseating.

The same can be said for the reaction to various sexcapades. A woman who makes a stupid joke (or has a differing opinion on a book) causing her shaming can expect to be called fat or a c*^t or a bad parent or told they should be genitally mutilated, but a public figure who admits to having an affair will most likely be lauded a hero once he buys his wife a fancy vacation to “rebuild their marriage” or helps her get elected as President . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

If you’re looking for a “smart” book that is easy to read, I highly recommend this one. Many thanks to Sam for bringing it to my attention – and for picking something we can FINALLY agree on. Now if you’d just re-read The Martian and admit that you read it wrong the first time I won’t have to gather the masses and shame you ; )
Profile Image for Nina.
841 reviews218 followers
March 25, 2023
This was a book about a topic I hadn't thought much about. Ronson interviews a number of people who have been publicly shamed, and I am quite surprised at how terrible people can be on the Internet. I also liked that he tried to figure out why we have this need to shame others, especially when he wrote about the Stanford experiment with a critical eye!
Profile Image for Mark.
163 reviews3 followers
February 22, 2015
Jon Ronson meanders around topics tangentially related to social media shaming. Like his other books, it is not so much a book about public shaming as it is the story of how he became aware of the topic, and what the expert he interviewed was wearing, and how the victim he interviewed moved her food with her fork at the restaurant, and how many times he checked his phone while observing a group therapy session. He offers no conclusions, just narcissistic vignettes.

I was moderately disappointed in this book, since this is a topic I'm intensely interested in, but once I realized that this was also the author of The Psychopath Test I was able to lower my expectations.

Full disclosure: I received a free uncorrected proof of this book to review through Goodreads First Reads giveaways. I received no other compensation for this review.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,656 followers
May 14, 2015
This was a fascinating read about shame in the modern world. The Internet has made it easier to make a mistake and then be publicly humiliated for it, and Jon Ronson researched and wrote about a few famous cases.

One incident highlighted in the book is Justine Sacco. In December 2013, Sacco made a bad joke on Twitter, was hounded on the Internet, fired from her PR job, and has not fully recovered from the public shaming. This was the joke she wrote: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

Ronson shows sympathy toward Sacco, pointing out that posting a bad joke about white privilege probably didn't warrant the incredible amount of worldwide shaming she received.

Another case in the book is Jonah Lehrer, who was caught fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works was pulled by the publisher when the scandal broke, and some of his other works were also called into question. In addition to losing his writing jobs, he was also scorned. When Lehrer decided to make a public apology, Twitter users were especially critical, saying he couldn't redeem himself.

Ronson talks to Sacco and Lehrer, and several other people who experienced a very severe and public shaming on the Internet. Ronson also looks up the history of shaming, and researches different theories of crowd behavior. The result is an engrossing pop-psych book, one that I kept pausing to share interesting stories and quotes to anyone who was near me at the time. I highly recommend it to those interested in social media, psychology, sociology and any fans of Jon Ronson.

Favorite Quotes:
"Something of real consequence was happening. We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years (public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and in 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way. When we deployed shame, we were utilizing an immensely powerful tool. It was coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence. Hierarchies were being leveled out. The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice."

[Ronson interviews a 4chan user, asking her what sorts of people gathered on the site] "A lot of them are bored, understimulated, overpersecuted, powerless kids," she replied. "They know they can't be anything they want. So they went to the Internet. On the Internet we have power in situations where we would otherwise be powerless."

[Psychiatrist James Gilligan studied shame among prison inmates] "Universal among the violent criminals was the fact that they were keeping a secret," Gilligan wrote. "A central secret. And that secret was that they felt ashamed — deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed, acutely ashamed ... I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed."

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,839 followers
October 28, 2016
I was looking forward to this book but also a bit worried. I hate online trolling and people who are unnecessarily rude to people (so, you know I am LOVING this election year #sarcasm). The description sounded like it would be an interesting look into how the public busts out its torches and pitchforks when easy prey presents itself.

I got exactly what I expected. I only gave it three stars because the writing was a little dry and at times repetitive (and I am not trying to shame the author! :)) But, the stories he told and the investigation he did really revealed how we are sick as a society and how it seems to be the tendency of the majority to use our current social landscape to attack those who do unfortunate (but often not completely terrible) things until they are completely destroyed. The examples he gives in the book of minor plagiarism, tasteless joking, etc. I see an article about almost every day online. It is quite scary and sad - a simple joke can bring the world crashing down on you. (That is why I do things like #sarcasm above)

At the same time, though, I think people need to be aware that we live in a society where if you put yourself out there, you might get burned. By using Goodreads, I am publicly displaying my opinion. I know that not everyone will agree or disagree, but there is a chance I might stir up a troll or two and I accept that - I just try not to feed the trolls and remain positive! Luckily, Goodreads seems to have fewer trolls than Facebook or Twitter.

If trolls and unreasonably handled social media situations intrigue you, give this book a shot!

One thing that I wanted to point out that is an irony (and maybe makes me a bit trollish), is that the first story in the book is about plagiarism. The author talks about researching sources and making sure that what you are saying is quoted exactly or it may destroy your credibility. When discussing some of the last social media activity of the person in question he attributes a tweet DIRECTLY to the person discussing a Fiona Apple album. I went to the twitter feed for this person, and it is actually a RETWEET . . . so, he basically printed something incorrectly in a chapter about making sure you check your sources so you don't print things incorrectly . . . I was amused.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews613 followers
July 23, 2020
The common assumption is that public punishments died out in the new great metropolises because they’d been judged useless. Everyone was too busy being industrious to bother to trail some transgressor through the city crowds like some volunteer scarlet letter. But according to the documents I found, that wasn’t it at all. They didn’t fizzle out because they were ineffective. They were stopped because they were far too brutal.
The people we were destroying were no longer ... public figures who had committed actual transgressions. They were private individuals who really hadn’t done anything much wrong. Ordinary humans were being forced to learn damage control, like corporations that had committed PR disasters. It was very stressful.

There are parts of this book that are interesting. I don’t live on Twitter, so many of these stories were new to me. But the book meanders, and trails off without much of an ending. And I’m not sure what the thesis here ultimately is. Mr. Ronson is definitely against shaming, especially by those who punch down on ‘regular people’ caught up in an unexpected firestorm as opposed to punching up on public figures who get caught in deliberate scandals. He’d certainly argue that, as with most things in this world, social media makes shaming worse (“a stage for constant artificial high drama”).

But there’s no coherent answer to the title question: what should one do if you’ve been publicly shamed? Multiple chapters revolve around the idea that one should simply choose not to feel ashamed, as if it were just that simple. There’s an interesting section about how people can flood the Google algorithm to bury embarrassing stories, but it’s apparently a very niche, super expensive process. And I don’t know how you could write a book about public shaming—and how to recover from it—without even mentioning the most famous example of probably the last 50 years: Monica Lewinsky.

Not a bad book, but not particularly informative. An odd read.
Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews395 followers
September 17, 2017
I have one thought that has not left my head since I started this book: What the hell is wrong with people? Seriously. What's happening? Why are people rushing to Facebook and Twitter to post pictures and comments that are so clearly in very bad taste? Who thinks of these things in the first place? Do these people have no filter? Is decorum a thing of the past? This, I think, of those who received the shaming. Regarding those shamers responding to them with an endless stream of vitriol and threats...I'm speechless. I don't understand the behavior.

Though the subject matter is engaging and the author puts his personality into this, I felt the book was all over the place. I don't want to spoil anything by detailing the cases discussed, but it did not feel cohesive as it jumped from plagiarism to several cases of internet shaming to history of shaming to vigilante hacker groups to questionable support groups to judges using shame as punishment to pornography...you get the idea. I often failed to see a clear connection from one chapter to the next, and the book felt like it meandered without a firm purpose until it just rolled to a stop. I was also challenged at times to understand why the author viewed some scenarios as acceptable...but I suppose that is the crux of all of this in a way: one person's deplorable is another person's hysterical.

I've thought about the topic daily for weeks. It's more than a little disturbing to learn just how much destruction can result from a single online post. Cyber bullying and trolling have serious consequences of course, but public shaming (according to Ronson's research) comes from a different place. Why are people so reactive? I am admittedly shocked at the examples posted by adults but I acknowledge that people make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes, and putting stuff out there online doesn't give others the right to judge/verbally assault/destroy lives.

Because I have young children I am terrified for their future. Everywhere I look at all hours of the day people are staring at their phones. If this is the future then behaviors have to change. As parents, educators, and members of society, we need to find a way to shape/teach/model better behavior online or perhaps just better behavior in real life. Kindness and empathy. But above all else, if people would spend their time and energy focusing on themselves, rather than analyzing, criticizing, and reacting to others, life would improve for everyone. Too bad that feels like the opposite of what social media is promoting. I suspect someday soon there will be companies offering to review people's posts before they go live to minimize the chances of catastrophes such as those outlined in this book.

My review is as disjointed as the book! This would be a good book club selection but otherwise I'm not sure I'd recommend it. 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Rozhan Sadeghi.
254 reviews337 followers
June 23, 2021
سال‌های اخیر من هم مثل همه آدم‌های دیگه‌ای که تو اینترنت فعالن و اتفاقات و اخباری که توش در جریانه رو میخونن، شاهد کنسل شدن آدم‌های معروف و غیرمعروف زیادی بودم. اکثرا یا شوخی بدی کردن، یا توییت‌های هوموفوبیک یا ریسیست چند سال پیششون کشف شده یا به هرحال به نوعی، اشتباهاتشون در معرض دید کاربرهای اینترنت قرار گرفته.

زندگی کاری و اجتماعی تقریبا همه این آدم‌ها بعد از Cancel شدنشون نابود شده. و من همیشه خدا، سر هرکدوم از این موارد درون خودم دچار دوگانگی و تناقض می‌شدم. از این لحاظ که کارهایی که این آدم‌ها کردن بعضا انقدر بد بود که خودم نمیتونستم ببخشمون (حداقل‌ نه به سادگی و نه طی مدت کوتاهی!)، ولی تصور اینکه کل زندگی این فرد نابود میشه هم اذیتم می‌کرد. مخصوصا تو مواردی که از مثلا توییت‌های همچین آدمی به خاطر نحوه بد بیان کردنش سوبرداشت شده بود.
یا موقع‌های که یه آدم به هردلیلی دچار اشتباهی شده (انسان جایز الخطا؟) و حالا پشیمونه. هرچند اون کار بد باشه و هرچند من به شخصه برام سخت باشه پذیرش پشیمونی اون آدم، همیشه فکر می‌کنم من اگه جای اون بودم چی؟ اگه واقعا پشیمون بودم و می‌خواستم خودم رو اصلاح کنم چی؟

خلاصه هیچوقت نمیتونستم (و الان هم حتا نمیتونم) که نظر قاطعی راجع به cancel culture بدم و بگم مخالفشم یا موافقش.
برای همین رفتم سراغ این کتاب که نویسندش مثل من نه این فرهنگ رو نفی میکنه نه تایید صرفا راجع بهش و راجع به آدمایی که کنسل شدن کنجکاوه.

نویسنده با قلم به شدتتت گیرا و قوی، طوری که واقعا سخت میشه کتاب و زمین گذاشت، با case study سعی میکنه ته و توی قضیه رو تا جایی که میشه در بیاره.
با آدم‌هایی که کنسل شدن مصاحبه میکنه، با آدم‌هایی که کنسل شدن ولی بخشیده شدن، با قاضی ای مصاحبه میکنه که مجازات‌هاش به صورت Shaming و خجالت زده کردن مجرم ها است و خیلی آدم‌های جورواجور دیگه.

میره سراغ صنعت پورن، میره سراغ تاریخ، سراغ روانشناسی، میره سراغ گروه‌هایی که دور هم جمع میشن و بدون خجالت هرچی فکر میکنن و به زبون میارن و خلاصه از اکثر زاویه‌های ممکن سعی می‌کنه این قضیه رو بررسی کنه.
تهش هیچ رای خاصی در تایید یا رد این مسئله صادر نمیکنه ولی خوندن کتاب و تک تک این case study ها باعث به چالش کشیدن خیلی از باورهاتون میشه.

معمولا برای کتاب‌هایی که به انگلیسی میخونم، مرور انگلیسی هم می‌نویسم ولی این دفعه استثنا قائل شدم که به کسایی که ریویوهامو دنبال میکنن که اکثر هم ایرانی هستن و خیلی‌هاشون این کتاب رو نمیشناسن، بگم تروخداااا آب دستتونه بذارید زمین و اگر با انگلیسی خوندن راحتید این کتاب و بخونید. چون برای خودم به شخصه از اون کتابایی بود که تا مدت‌ها هرکسی و ببینم میخوام بهش پیشنهادش کنم.
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews896 followers
August 9, 2019
This was okay, but a bit repetitive and it sometimes felt like the Author really tried to stretch the story to its maximum.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
November 25, 2015
"The Circle", by Dave Eggers ......eerily creepy -plausible-dystopia-social media-
"SHARING IS CARING".....is frickin -fun-reading....

"So You've Been Publicly Shamed", by Jon Ronson......brutal-humiliation-public shaming of people---"SHAME- on - those SHAMING"......is a warning...
.....scary jokes back-fired and became haunting
......tasteless trashy tearing people apart shamed people's behavior .....

The first part of this book I thought was pretty good- funny even. Jon Ronson begins with his first chapter with a personal story. ( a group of men set up a Twitter account using his name pretending to be him).

Once Jon Ronson digs into the lives of others who have been disgraced, (John Lehrer -author and journalist)... and ordinary unknown people ( Justine Sacco), we begin to see all sides of the of public bandwagon outrages.

It's possible this book can make you more uncomfortable than 'The Circle"...

After reading this book, you just might feel the urge to read quotes from
"All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten".

Even if you don't read "So You've Been Shamed Publicly".....
You might enjoy a refresher reminder of the Kindergarten Rules:

1. share everything
2. Play fair
3. Don't hit people
4. Put things back where you found them
5. Clean up your own mess
6. Don't take things that aren't yours
7. Say you're sorry when you HURT Somebody
8. Wash your hands before you eat
9. Flush
10. Warm cookies and milk are good for you
11. Live a balanced life – – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play every day
12. Take a nap every afternoon
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we all are like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books, the first word you learned – – the biggest word of all – –LOOK.

Overall.., mostly this book starts off well ...then somewhere in the middle, I was getting bored .. Yet, I still felt the direct punch ....
SHAMING PEOPLE PUBLICLY can haunt a person for the rest of their life!
Do you want to be responsible for adding - contributing - to THAT much misery to a person's life?

Interesting that I read this book now.... given a personal experience of my own - 'this' week...
The overall message was like eating a bag of integrity-gum- drops!

Profile Image for Feyre.
102 reviews242 followers
February 1, 2018
“We’re creating a culture where people feel constantly surveilled, where people are afraid to be themselves.”
― Jon Ronson, So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson is an amazing writer. He makes non-fiction a compelling page turner. In this book he studies and analyzes cruelty of social network's members and the damage public shaming does to individuals.
This was exactly what i expected it to be, an entertaining, fun and easy read !! Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
523 reviews445 followers
March 22, 2018

The motif of So You've Been Publicly Shamed, the way I see it. I used to have this cup. Looks like this particular pic came from Etsy.

Jon Ronson's focus is on individuals who've been shamed on social media, especially Twitter. Jon isn't an intellectual or scholar--and so it is that I feel comfortable calling him by his first name--but he is doing us all a great service by thinking out loud about the phenomenon. It's not that he doesn't want to offer conclusions; he does, but his ideas remain in flux. The conclusions, such as they are, strike me as less important that shining the spotlight on public shaming. Talking--publicly--can be a boon.

Early on, I realized the book was having a positive therapeutic effect on me. I think that's when it became clear the key issue is the shaming, i.e., the shamer(s), and not the target; not the victim. Now the author, Jon, wavers around that point. He starts out thinking of shaming as virtual punishment for, say, an exhibition of white privilege. He thinks that's justice and is happy for the power to participate in the shaming. Then he realizes what's happening is akin to the stocks, pillory, and whipping post: a revival of punishment via public humiliation. He sees how an individual's whole life can be reduced to some careless and inane utterance that took ten seconds, and even that utterance can be willfully misunderstood, the better to make it go viral. But he persists in trying to distinguish somebody who should get off light from someone who truly deserves what they get. He's awfully drawn to believing in the virtual community's potential to do good by speaking out and remedying the imperfections of the justice system. However, he may be dealing with an oxymoron here: a good lynch mob.

I think I remember that prior reviews I read of this book also tended to be drawn to blame. It's easy to think whoever wrote the viral tweet du jour deserves what they get and hard not to think that way. How could a person be so stupid and blind as to tweet she won't get AIDS because she's white? How could somebody be so nutty as to post photos of herself hollering and shooting a bird next to a sign calling for silence and respect in a veterans' cemetery? Those are two of the basically good guys who got reduced to their worst moments and publicized around the world.

And if those are the good ones whose worldwide humiliation, job loss, and general shunning is regrettable, according to the case made by Jon Ronson, what about those who did something even worse? Columnist Bill Torpy sums it up in my local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His focus is definitely on the one who makes the misstep:

There’s a formula to this skit: Someone cluelessly posts a comment, photo, joke, nasty slur or diatribe on what they think is a closed network among friends, or like-minded others. Why they do it — having seen the wreckage of others — is a head-scratcher. Perhaps it’s social media’s thrill of immediate interaction and reaction that feeds the dopamine in the brain. And stupidity.

Then someone redistributes the post, often with their own scolding analysis. And then it’s on. The evil-doer is roundly and repeatedly excoriated as more and more people jump in to add their wisdom, calling for the person to be fired, kicked out of school or run out of society.

Such internet pile-ons allow us to proudly — and very publicly — wave our banner of personal virtue. In doing so, the offender is taught a lesson, as are possible future offenders. It’s a harsh world with this self-policing. ...

Ari Cohn, who works for FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) said common sense concerning the offending person’s language matters not. Activism for social justice takes no prisoners.

“Students now have the ability to make their voices heard — for better or for worse,” said Cohn. “A mob will very quickly achieve results. Schools and businesses don’t want PR disasters. They capitulate.”

So there we have it. A misstep = evil-doing. Beware the mob.

Be forewarned, by all means. We believe rape is wrong and the victim never deserves it, but that doesn't deter us, I trust, from advising our daughters against getting drunk while alone and skimpily dressed in lowlife bars.

Online shaming has a random quality; not everyone who unwisely opens his or her mouth may be noticed and outed. Online shaming can target the wrong person, for example, someone with the same or similar name as that of the hapless perpetrator, or someone whose picture shows up in the wrong place at the wrong time, as in the case of the man mistakenly thought to have sent out the false Hawaiian missile alert. Online shaming is fast, not slow and cautious. It is typically accompanied by schadenfreude. It's vindictive, not merciful. It's an excuse to really let go, to go all-out. It's disproportionate: one person standing for some despised form of wrongdoing is made to suffer for all. It's like the climate on campuses where students are reportedly concerned about triggering and trauma yet don't hesitate to come down hard on others.

One targeted man thought that believing the public wants an apology is off-target; they wanted him gone, destroyed, and never heard from again.

Being targeted makes the victim toxic. Anyone who's too close will be targeted too, especially anyone who stands up for him or her. The would-be defender can also become fair game. That's why employers and associates so often turn tail and run.

Jon struggles with the fact that some people are less targetable than others. Where do they get their Teflon? Are we talking about some aspect of character, or is it a behavioral formula? And if your Teflon is inadequate and you get hit, your reputation can be cleansed, although only by an online talent who understands how to handle Google's algorithms. Nor is it cheap, so hopefully you have very deep pockets.

Women when targeted are frequently treated more harshly than men and are called out in the most misogynistic language. So much for online vengeance as being a tool of social justice. In a recent New Yorker article on current theories of violence, Paul Bloom recounts the hypothesis that women are punished for not living up to men's social expectations, and although his article is on physical violence, that same hypothesis fits the virtual violence of online shaming.

In the same article, Paul Bloom also describes theories that violence

is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn't entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: "People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying."

Hmm, Jon? Apparently, feeling just doesn't guarantee one is being just. The assumption that one's target "deserves it" is one too easily made. Human beings all too automatically rationalize the deservingness of those toward whom we direct violence.

But as I said early on, Jon Ronson is not sure; his conclusions waver. That's a good thing.

Paul Bloom wrote that it's the doubt and ambivalence that sometimes accompany violence that may eventually point the way toward moral progress. I'm applying those words about physical violence to the online phenomenon of shaming.

When I was 21 I was working on the psychiatric ward of a big-city hospital in a family-like team of other assistants and nurses. Into this comfortable mix came a reminder from the past whom I didn't much want to see there, a young lady who'd attended my high school. Let's just say I found the work environment to be a better fit than high school. So maybe I was giving her the eye; I really don't remember. But next thing you know, she'd reported me to our supervisor, and I got my wrist slapped. Oh, I thought; power! So this is how it works! So next thing you know, there was this other guy who didn't quite fit in in some way or other. I'll write him up and report him, I thought. And I did. But then I saw it was about me and not about him and felt bad about it. And I learned. Never have I done that again. Glad there was no social media to exacerbate the situation.

But I'm still learning to deal with what comes my way.

Addendum: I forgot to mention the parallel between outing and shaming in today's social media and the reporting that we understand to have gone on under totalitarian or fear-based regimes. In 1984 for example, some children report their parents, if I remember right. We've been given to understand that in such cases the reporters feel good about it; proud. Jon Ronson does mention the phenomenon of people working as informants to the East German secret police, the Stasi. People would sign up despite low pay and mushrooming workload. One theory was that reporting made them feel special and important. They were willing collaborators. A Stasi psychologist, though, concluded that people wanted to make sure the neighbor was toeing the line -- behaving properly. Yet at that point Jon remains enamored of how in his view social media--Twitter in particular--gives a voice to the voiceless.

Voice to the voiceless? If everyone is hollering at high level and some wield such disproportionate power? I'm not so sure about that, especially considering the efficacy of a common target in uniting a posse. Little voices uniting as one powerful voice through a common target, in other words.

He's also concerned with people's new need to be careful and tiptoe online. He thinks that's the loss of freedom. It could be, though, the emergence of conscience.

Anyway, he's reflected on "what level of mercilessness" he feels comfortable with. He no longer jumps into the fray unless the target has "committed a transgression that has an actual victim, and even then not as much as I probably should," even though he "miss(es) the fun a little." But who has judged that guilty-appearing individual, and who appointed this particular cluster of social-media users as judge and jury? Jon's discomfort could reflect his doubt, and, paradoxically, the emergence of conscience.

If community is the conduit from which conscience emerges, then what kind of community is it that is giving birth to the evolving conscience?
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
630 reviews382 followers
June 26, 2018
You know, sometimes the internet is a miserable collective consciousness that seems to bring out the worst in humanity. For me, I think of the Facebook comments section and what little I know of Twitter--I'm still a dinosaur who doesn't tweet--as some sort of digital hellscape where everyone closes off their inhibitions and lets loose the worst vitriol imaginable. What's more, the way social media has gradually become a kind of news platform has made me feel dejected when scrolling through my feed. I suppose it is all a bit difficult for one to wrap one's head around, but luckily Jon Ronson has written a very good book about the angry people of the internet and their victims.

In So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson introduces a slew of individuals who have suffered some form of public shaming via the internet. Ronson then breaks down their perceived affront to the web, their shaming, and subsequent life. It is these portraits that offer the most humanistic vision of this disturbing behaviour in which we all participate to some degree. In seeing the ways in which these people often suffer in the aftermath of seemingly innocuous pranks, I came away with the feeling that the punishment does not always fit the crime.

Ronson is a capable narrator who manages to inject a lot of humour in his investigation of public shaming. Though I did miss out on all of the photos included in the print collection, this is the type of book which I relish most in audio format. I'd previously enjoyed the audiobook of The Psychopath Test by Ronson some number of years ago and was happy to return to him here.

I enjoyed So You've Been Publicly Shamed because it helped to illuminate a part of the internet with which I've always been bothered. It provides the temporal distance necessary to examine how perceived activism and snap judgements have real human consequences. Ronson also delves into the trend of the internet assuming moral superiority on any given issue and denouncing those who speak up against what is held to be the internet truth. I've always believed that multiple perspectives are needed in order to come to a viewpoint on any matter. By restricting the stories we allow ourselves to hear, read, or listen to we narrow our vision.

I'm glad to have read this book and I'll be suggesting it to friends and family for its important examination of a topic on which I've had many discussions. Ronson, I believe, is ultimately advocating for kindness and understanding in the place of rage and viciousness. It's a stance that I can get behind and a future for which I hope.

[Review of Audiobook]


With all the shade I cast at social media in this review, I'd just like to say that Goodreads is my favourite form of social media. Though I am biased, I think that through reading we develop greater empathy, are more open to differing opinions, and are much kinder to one another.
Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,052 followers
February 7, 2017
While I am writing this, a case of public shaming is going on in Germany - it is not in any way as vitriolic as the ones Jon Ronson talks about but is proof that his book is timely and important. Public shaming is interesting and horrifying - Ronson talks about cases where a single tweet unleashed an outpouring of hate that stand in no relation to the offense. And I agree with him in his conclusion that this is disturbing trend. He made me think about these cases where the victim of shaming really had done something offensive and in the first instance it might seem right to call them out on and where this calling out spiraled and become very ugly, very fast. While I do not agree with his assessment of the victims being completely not to blame (because wow, some things really were horribly offensive and they decided to share them anyway), hearing him read out all the inhuman threats made for an uncomfortable experience. I cannot even begin to understand how debilitating it must be to experience this outpouring of hate.

But while I thought parts of the book were really interesting, it was to shallow for me to really appreciate it. I would have liked more insights into the influence misogyny and racism have and why it is that men come out of these shamings a lot less harmed than women. He sometimes started to talk about it but then backed out again. The reason might be that his approach is a more personal one and that he cannot really get out of his own skin for long enough to broaden his approach. By the end of the audiobook is got really frustrated with the lack of depth and the way he just kept repeating his points over and over and over again to the point of sounding condescending to anybody disagreeing with him.

So overall, this was an important book that could have been handled a lot better. And the focus on Justine Sacco (who did not seem to realize that her tweet was horrible and not funny and really not recognizable as a joke) grated.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,487 reviews12.8k followers
November 23, 2015

Jon Ronson is in a Shame Eradication Workshop in Chicago being screamed at by people who are letting out their inner monologues, uncensored. A couple of them have just admitted they enjoy having sex with their cats.

It’s part of Ronson’s exploration of modern public shaming, a lot of which focuses on social media sites like Twitter. A PR Exec called Justine Sacco tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" – a bad joke but obviously intended satirically – that blew up, caught the attention of millions, and got her fired. Lindsey Stone, a care worker, took a photo of her flipping off a “Silence and Respect” sign in a veterans’ graveyard in Washington DC (the setup is part of an in-joke with her friends), and consequently became a hate figure online, as well as losing her job.

Bestselling author and New Yorker columnist, Jonah Lehrer, lost his job, his book contract, his agent, a number of speaking gigs and his credibility when it turned out he’d fabricated Bob Dylan quotes used in his last book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. Dylan actually said: "God, I'm glad I'm not me," but Lehrer changed it to: "God, I'm glad I'm not me. I'm glad I'm not that". He created some other lies (one of them, “Stop asking me to explain”, was pretty ironic) and tried to pass them off as truth before being discredited by journalist Michael Moynihan.

The various stories recounted here are fascinating. Besides the ones already mentioned there’s Texas Judge Ted Poe who incorporates public shaming in his punishments and claims it lowers re-offending; Max Mosley, the Formula One honcho and son of Oswald Mosley, the famed WW2 British Nazi, who got caught in an S&M orgy; and two American software developers who made a couple of dumb Beavis and Butthead-type jokes during a tech expo and got fired when a woman sat in front of them retweeted what they were saying.

There’s no real thesis here though. Ronson is being entertaining collecting these various stories with a running theme, but there’s not much behind them besides the shock of how these people paid an enormous price for – let’s face it – damn small things. But because of the ubiquity of social media sites, self-righteous hysteria can be whipped up instantaneously and people’s lives dramatically changed by enough outraged strangers.

The blurb says that ordinary people are using shame as a force of social control, that people on social media are tearing apart people who exist outside the boundaries of what we perceive as “normal”, but it’s not a convincing argument. Plenty of people say tasteless things online and never have their lives trashed like the ones in this book and they’re never ashamed of their behaviour.

Ronson does make the interesting observation though that men who’ve digressed in some way are often threatened with sackings while women, in a similar situation, receive rape and death threats instead. But, like a lot in this book, it’s touched upon and then just as quickly discarded. Clearly a lot of work’s gone into this book but it doesn’t feel very substantial. Social media can be scary and shame can destroy some people’s lives while completely bypass others isn’t a powerful conclusion.

That’s alright though because I read Ronson for laughs and gossip and there’s plenty of that here. The opening chapter about a Jon Ronson spambot on Twitter who loves food was hilarious and I had no idea that Jonah Lehrer publicly apologised while having a live Twitter feed behind him that was instantly destroying his speech. And I just like the full title and author name: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - really, what’d that jerk do to you!? (You gotta make yourself laugh, y’know?)

There are plenty more great bits in this book that are good fun to read and very well written. If you enjoy Louis Theroux’s docs, you’ll like Jon Ronson’s books which are essentially the literary equivalent. They reveal fascinating stories but are basically playing off of humans’ trashy natures at the same time - and that’s a fine trade-off I’m happy with!
Profile Image for Julio Genao.
Author 9 books1,989 followers
Want to read
August 18, 2015
want to read this because this author gave an amazing TED talk about how the internet allows us the dark satisfaction of shaming another person without consequence to us.

in effect, destroying the lives of other people to feed the ragey beasts living in the darkness of our collective id.

all day long.

it's a fascinating talk:

Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,406 reviews2,379 followers
July 31, 2022
“A snowflake never feels responsible for the avalanche” Jonathan Bullock
This basically sums up for me, what this book is about. I enjoyed reading this book. I felt Ronson gave a well-researched rounded view of “shame”. Shame is such a broad monster of a topic and Ronson did a fantastic job of showing various sides of it without it being overwhelming or reading like a public service announcement.

I loved the real life cases that were researched and presented in this book. There are some I heard about in the news or others I might have come across on Twitter. The “AIDs tweet” I can remember RT-ing so hearing her story really resonated with me. Too often we are the ones with the Twitter accounts waiting for that one opportunity to shame someone or beat them while they are down. Reading what she went through and how pressing send ruined her life drove the point home that there is power in social media and we are to be careful how we use it.

First book by Ronson and I am beyond impressed. Everyone should give this a read.
Profile Image for Rachel.
126 reviews2 followers
November 11, 2017
While the author makes fun of Gladwellian social scientists for their pseudo scientific approach to topics like this, he seems to fall prey to this often himself while presenting their stories as if they're impartial case studies while clearly instructing us on how we should feel about them.
What really got to me was the Adria Richards story and how he approached it. This was one of maybe a dozen women at a conference for Python coding. Probably one of a few black women. And, in the small minute segment of the conference dedicated to women in tech, the men behind her started making jokes about sex using innuendo based around tech terms, like "dongle" and "I'd fork her repo."
She turned around and said, "Stop It." And she took their picture and Tweeted it, tagging the conference in the Tweet. She explained in a follow-up Tweet that it was gross and the timing was really offensive.
Conference organizers confront them and then decide everything is fine. According to Ronson, they then decided to leave because these were sensitive nerds who were unable to handle conflict (his words).
Inexplicably, based only on this Tweet, one of the guys is fired. He goes on a tech site to rant about this and names Adria as the reason he can't support his three children. Note: he gets another 6-figure job in under 2 weeks.
The internet attacks. Appalling threats of rape, torture, and murder are lobbed in racist tirades at this black woman. This goes on for a year. They target her employer who ultimately fires her for this. She's un-hirable so she sinks into depression.
Ronson doesn't think the assault on her is fair but he uses a lot of coded language to imply she asked for it. He even offers up some anecdotes about some abuse in her childhood to explain why she was so sensitive.
But, Hank, the guy who was fired - Ronson visits him in his new job where he says he feels traumatized and unable to feel safe working with women anymore. When pushed, he admits that he doesn't actually work with any women in his job.
This book lost all credibility for me here.
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