So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

  • How much I’d Recommend: 9/10
  • Date finished: 7/19/20
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: recommend borrowing from your local library – everyone should read it as soon as possible.

I asked our local library to purchase it a while back before COVID. Because of COVID, our local public library shut down for the longest time and only recently opened back up. When they told me that this book is ready for pick up, I had already forgotten who recommended it.

Jon brings you on a journey of many people who have been publicly shamed or somehow have insights into surviving public shaming. Unlike a lot of the research/academic books written by professors from colleges, Jon seems to have a personal opinion on these issues, tho his curiosity keeps him open-minded in the pursuit of the truth.

I am surprised some of the more iconic public shaming didn’t get into the book, like the Monica Lewinsky & Bill Clinton scandal. I enjoyed it tremendously nonetheless. It is a book I couldn’t put down.

Main events from the book:

  • being “impersonated” on Twitter by scientists for a brief moment
  • the plagiarism story of the journalist Jonah Lehrer, and his #epicfail public apology with Twitter live-feed in front of him.
  • Justine Sacco and her disastrous tweet about AIDS and how she’s white and won’t get AIDS has destroyed her career. 
  • The judge, Ted Poe, who uses public shaming (not online, in the physical world) as punishment instead of prison time. Criminals are grateful to him that they didn’t have to serve jail time and also found their purpose in life in the process of it.
  • Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, and Dave Eshelman, one of the student participants who said he was being cruel just for show.
  • Two techies were fired after Adria Richards took a photo of them and complained that they made an inappropriate comment (“forking someone’s repo”) at a tech conference. Adria was later on fired from her work because someone from 4chan DDos’ed her employer’s website and said the attack would stop if they fire her.
  • Max Mosley and his S&M photo of being whipped by a woman dressed in German military uniform, and how he had survived this public shaming unscathed. Jon was fascinated by his story and hoping to find the solution for everyone, but it appears to be situational that this happened.
  • Jon visited S&M expert Kink.com and the porn movie producer Princess Donna and was on set for a public disgrace.
  • Jon attended the Shame-Eradication Workshop set up by Brad Blanton based on Radical Honesty. Based on Jon’s description, this is my least favorite chapter. It is maddening; the theory of Brad’s Radical Honesty was not explained. It just appears that people say mean things to each other with no actual strategy to remedy the issues.
  • Jon tried dressing up as a woman to go to a Muslim area of London and document the journey. This experiment ended because Jon couldn’t do it.
  • Alexis Wright who ran a Zomba brothel in Kennebunk, Maine released all 69 of her clients. 68 of them were men and they were afraid of the public shaming that would come after this, but it never came. The society seems to be not so interested in men cheating on their wives anymore.
  • Mike Daisey, who told the story as a monologue about Apple using N-hexane in their factory that resulted in workers having their hands permanently damaged. But this story had factual inaccuracy after it was discovered that Daisey had lied about his experiences.
  • Lindsey Stone, who posed in front of the national cemetery with an obscene gesture and was publicly shamed and fired from her job.
  • Jon also met Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, and arranged him to help Lindsey Stone to a new reputation. Although, I searched “Lindsey Stone” today, and the first picture that came up was still the one where she’s giving the middle finger in front of the national cemetery.

I find this book and the topic of public shaming more and more concerning since this COVID started in 2020. The Central Park Birdwatching Incident with Amy Cooper now has its own Wikipedia page. People judge others by whether they wear masks in public about their political stance and their moral characters. People getting fired from posting “fake news” on their Facebook pages at work. It feels like a more hostile environment where people judge others by their tweets. From one tweet of 280 characters, people quickly make a snap judgment of others and decide you are either for me or against me. If you are against me, then we pile up like in a vicious dog fight, to tear this person apart to show our disapproval, distaste, disagreement on their views. 

People losing their jobs, marriages, career, the will to live, and lives because of public shaming. Do they deserve all that? Perhaps not. Maybe it’s not our place to pass on that heavy judgment to our fellow humans.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

It felt like we were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws, and there had suddenly been an escalation in hostilities.

It turns out that the concept of group madness was the creation of a nineteenth-century French doctor called Gustave LeBon.

His idea was that humans totally lose control of their behavior in a crowd. Our free will evaporates. A contagious madness takes over, a complete lack of restraint. We can’t stop ourselves. So we riot, or we jubilantly tear down Justine Sacco.

We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years – since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed – we have the power to determine the severity of some punishment.

I suddenly feel with social media like I’m tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment.

We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it.

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