This is a book that I have been waiting for and again, I managed to borrow a copy from my bestie. It was so good, I nearly lent that copy to a colleague before remembering that it wasn’t actually mine. Then I told my bestie and she confessed that it wasn’t hers either. This book is so good it demands to be lent around.
The brilliant and the terrible thing about the internet is that it a largely lawless place. There are countless platforms that allow people to share their opinions publicly and often anonymously. This is great for accessing information, sharing content, connecting with people and even making money. However, the immediacy and anonymity of the internet mean that all the ugly things that occur in ordinary society have the capacity to be magnified exponentially online. Some people who make an innocuous or poorly thought out comment may suddenly find themselves the target of an internet hate mob. They might start receiving thousands and thousands of threats of violence. They might find themselves doxxed, which means having their personal information like home address and place of work shared publicly. What they posted might go viral and they might become so ridiculed that they become a meme.
This is where “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson steps in. Ronson combines interviews with research in his book on the seemingly unstoppable phenomenon of being publicly shamed on the internet. He starts out with his own experience of identity theft and how helpless he was to prevent it. He gets some fascinating insight into the every day people who find themselves in the firing line, how they responded and how (if at all) they moved on. There are lots of stories, contemporary and historical, and some of them really show how arbitrary the targets of public shaming can be. Ronson also looks into archaic practice of using public shaming as a punishment drawing some interesting parallels between that and internet hate mobs.
I only have one complaint about this book and that is that I wanted more. I wanted more information, more stories, more solutions. It’s not often I read a non-fiction book that has me hooked and asking for more, but here it is.
I’d also really recommend checking out Ronson’s TED talk:
5 responses to “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”
Well thank you, Angharad. An excellent reminder of how painful mob attack can be. I was unaware of this one … I will definitely read the book. I do wonder about the elephant/ big cat hunters about which I did comment. I read about British politicians with dodgy expenses and lifestyles at variance with their holier than thou political stance and I wonder where the line is to be drawn. I think I was most distressed by the violent horrors = the trolls and the lack of remonstration with their ugly comments.
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Definitely worth a read. The problem with the internet hate mob is there’s no sense of proportionality. There are no institutional mechanisms like with a legal system to make sure that the punishment is equal to the crime. I think with politicians, they have deliberately and knowingly taken a public role and I think it’s appropriate that their behaviour be under constant scrutiny. It’s the everyday people who make an ill-considered comment which leads to them losing their jobs and sometimes the will to live because of the barrage of hundreds, thousands, even millions of comments, threats etc. that they find themselves at the receiving end of.
The internet is a lawless land.
Currently reading his “THEM: Adventures with extremists” and watching the accompanying docos, Ronson is great, I want to read this too, as he can understand, even in the amidst of a Klan meeting and at a gun show, that people are human and make mistakes, some permanent, others temporary. good review, want to read it more now! xx
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