Thursday, 15 September 2016

Review: So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Title: So You've Been Publicly Shamed
Author: Jon Ronson
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 306
Genres: Non-fiction

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

'It's about the terror, isn't it?'
'The terror of what?' I said.

'The terror of being found out.'

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.

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people's faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
Jon Ronson has done it again, So You've Been Publicly Shamed gave me plenty to think about. We have all seen some sort of crazy Twitter, Youtube or Facebook public shaming on some unlucky individual who said something that was  perceived as offensive and outrageous. I have always felt deeply uneasy about destroying a person's life because they said one stupid thing (that they almost always didn't mean), and I was glad to see that Jon Ronson finally confronted this dark side of social media.

Using a handful of some truly terrible examples of how public shaming has affected people's lives, Ronson gives the humanity back to those demonised individuals and firmly points the finger at the morality of ordinary people who were only too happy to do the modern equivalent of chuck rotten tomatoes at their face. The unlucky individuals that are targeted almost always lose their job, end up with some kind of anxiety/depression issue and in some cases, commit suicide. It was really sobering to read about the almost blood lust of the communities on social media and how the effects of dehumanising the individuals concerned into evil, soulless beings is often overlooked. To read about how public shaming ruins people's lives, you would think they had murdered somebody or made a video of themselves gleefully crushing baby animals. It is madness.

This book provides a fascinating inside look into how people have dealt with the after effects of their public shaming, as well as the reasons why public shaming such as whippings was discontinued in the 19th century, the effects of shaming in the courtroom, and in the prison system. I really love Ronson's writing style as it is engaging, accessible and easy to follow.

I think this should be recommended reading for everyone, to provide an interesting fresh perspective of the phenomena of online public shaming.

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