Being ribald at whippings: Jon Ronson’s So you’ve been publicly shamed

Cover of So you think you've been publicly shamed

So you’ve been publicly shamed by Jon Ronson is a brutal read. It could so easily be you or me, saying something off the cuff on Facebook or Twitter and having it swirl back on you.

Jon meets the real people behind the stories of social media shaming, including:

  • Science writer Jonah Lehrer, pinged for plagiarism by another journalist, requesting forgiveness with a live Twitter feed on screen behind his head. And people on Twitter respond with venom.
  • Justine Sacco, who gets off a plane in Capetown to discover she’s lost her job and her reputation thanks to a tweet.
  • A couple of tech chaps who have their photo taken and spread around the internet after a throwaway joke.

It happens so fast, and blows people’s lives apart. But Jon Ronson wants to know how they get through it, how they rebuild their lives after being shamed.  And how people like Max Mosley manage to not take shame on board at all.

He looks at how your online reputation can be “cleansed”, and how much money there is in shaming.

It is nightmarish stuff, and you can see phenomena like the “Twitter mob” or “social media pile-on” play out with heartless regularity. Twitter and Facebook may be the hotbeds, but the stories end up in the mainstream media too. What is harder to uncover is why people are so keen to join the braying mob:

The response to Jonah’s apology had been brutal and confusing to me. It felt as if the people on Twitter had been allowed to choose their roles, and all had gone for the part of the hanging judge. Or it was even worse than that. They all had gone for the part of the people in the lithographs being ribald at whipping. (p.51)

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