Letters of Mass Construction

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I think I am funny. I am fairly certain that a handful of people think I am funny. I know that I have occasionally thrown something out onto Twitter that has garnered a few laughs. I also know that I have had jokes fall like weighted anvils to the bottom of the social media stream to never be laughed at or seen again. At least that’s what I hope. The truth is far different from that. It doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there and waits. If you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky and you said something particularly offensive to somebody or you become famous, those jokes and comments will rise up like a leviathan and swallow your life whole.

We live in a world that seems to enjoy the piling on of public shame. We revel in it. Some people seem to be waiting around just hoping for that good shame feast to pounce on. This happens again and again with little to no thought of the consequences. There are times when the public shaming seems to be well deserved. Someone’s caught plagiarizing or being misogynistic. Often times it is just a joke gone wrong. A few words misunderstood. Then the shame is piled on like we are in a coliseum and we are going to feed those people to the public lion. There are no breaks and lives are often destroyed in the process.

This is the subject Jon Ronson tackles in his new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. He starts off with a personal story of shaming someone who stole his identity as a joke or thought experiment. He writes about the glee he felt when he brings them down with the power of the internet. It leads him to a deeper thought. Did I go too far? Did the punishment actually fit the crime?

He sets off to interview and tell people’s stories of their public shaming. Some of them are heart breaking. Lives completely destroyed and torn apart because a joke sunk like a bomb. What’s worse is their inability to ever escape it because it sits out there like an anchor around their neck. Waiting to be discovered by the next person who Googles their name.

This was my favorite Jon Ronson book since Them and that is saying something because I love Ronson. I felt he told the stories fairly and evenly. I loved that he kept his own personal feelings about the people and public shaming right up front. This book became about self discovery as much as telling these people’s story. His understanding of the glee he took in several public pile ons keeps him moving forward.

As a person who puts a lot of things out into the social media world this hits close to home. It is not that hard to imagine myself at the other end of a particularly nasty lashing. It has made me examine my own behavior out on the web. To really think about the people I have blasted over the years. To examine if I want to actually be part of the shame culture that seems to exist in social media. There is no easy answer to this question but it is one well worth examining. This book will help start that journey.

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