So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Reviewed

So You've Been Publicly ShamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite entertaining overall, it’s a collection of stories about people who have been shamed (surprising I know). The inaugural chapter is the one I enjoyed the most, where Ronson employs a personal cyber army, to leverage the shutdown of a spambot Twitter account, that was stealing his identity. The Jonah Lehrer saga I didn’t find particularly interesting, though I did find the idea of him asking for forgiveness in the vicinity of a live tweet wall, rather hilarious and outrageous. I am glad the whole book didn’t end up being about him.

I would have enjoyed this book more I think, if I hadn’t already known about some of the stories it told. Though I did experience nostalgic schadenfreude reading about Justine Sacco again, which made international news at the time. Looking at “Donglegate” I was initially pleased to see the instigator receive some form of justice after exposing an innocuous private joke. Though on reflection, the punishment certainly didn’t fit the crime.

There was an interesting titbit about the Stasi’s tracking method. They’d spray victims with something radioactive thereby making it easier to track them through a crowd using a Geiger counter. I already knew that the Stamford Prision experiments were bunk and Zimbardo was deceitful but it was nice to see why in a little more detail. For one thing, we don’t hear about that sort of behaviour in real life do we? There was only one prison officer who went out of line and that was because he was being observed and hammed it up a la Cool Hand Luke for Zimbardo (he wanted him to have good results). Zimbardo also gave the officers a pep talk which of course influenced things. It was sad to hear that the prison reforms in New Jersey were halted, because in part, the governor thought that people would incarcerate themselves to get a free college education. Even if that was true, which it isn’t, surely you should look into reducing the cost of college?

I do find the idea of Ronson lurking on the infamous /b/ board and soliciting requests for interview quite funny. Vaguely I do remember hearing about this. The story of him going undercover as a lady and him visiting a BDSM porn shoot were both hilarious. I was glad to also learn that ‘Radical Honesty’ is bullshit and I saw parrallels of Donald Trump with the disgraced academic Gustave Le Bon. It is not surprising, that firms exist that can ‘erase’ bad stories about you from search engine results. It’s big business.

Ronson’s moral of the book is essentially to moderate our punishment behaviours on social media and not to be so quick to jump to conclusions. Sadly in the years since it was written, I doubt if that has happened, if anything things have gotten worse. These sorts of behaviours do have real impacts, where people who have been shamed into taking their own lives. The author explains how on many occasions throughout history, people do evil things because they thought they were morally right. So when users are threatening someone online for a minor transgression they think they are doing the right thing. Like when the Nazis committed mass genocide they thought they were doing the world a favour – that they were the good guys. The book raises a lot of issues: who should be shamed? For how long? And in what way? Despite being a few years old the book is certainly still contemporarenous, given the zeitgeist of social media.

She told me about her favorite 4chan thread. It was started by ‘a guy who’s genuinely in love with his dog, and his dog went in heat, and so he went around collecting samples and injecting them into his penis and he fucked his dog and got her pregnant and they’re his puppies’. Mercedes laughed. ‘That’s the thread I told the FBI about when they asked me about 4chan, and some of the officers actually got up and left the room’

– Mercedes Haefer.

He said […] if I wanted to know more about his work I should google him. I did and immediately saw many close-ups of his anus.

– Ronson getting inadvertently trolled by Connor Habib

‘He said, “We have to stop the idea of giving free college education to inmates,’ Gilligan told me, ‘otherwise people who are too poor to go to college are going to start comitting crimes so they can get sent to prison for a free education”‘

– William ‘The idiot’ Weld

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