Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

We love a good pile on, don’t we? We love to see someone get what’s coming to them. Except when it’s us. Then we cry for mercy.

At the heart of Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is this dichotomy. How has the advent of social media given us such a ready outlet for (sometimes violent) shaming? And how can we turn it off when it’s directed at us?

Shaming works. And that’s why so many publicly shame others. But at what cost? Ronson delves into the data to determine how lives have been wrecked and who has paid the greater price when publicly shaming goes awry. From a poor joke at a conference to a photo splashed throughout Twitter to a rape-themed backlash on 4Chan. A simple misspoken word in a moment can lead to a lifetime of regret and ruined reputation.

Ronson himself faced publicly shaming and backlash from the publication of this book. When he offered that shaming a joke sent on Twitter about AIDS and Africa was overblown, he was called racist. He readily ascribes to the title of Social Justice Warrior, and this book gets at the ugly roots of that endeavor. What strikes me is what we call justice nowadays. No longer do we look out for victims. We see blood in the water and plunge in like sharks. But justice and punishment aren’t the same. Shaming is punitive, never restorative. And justice must be more wholistic.

I would love to hear what you get out of this book. And if you enjoy it, by all means find more from Jon Ronson. He’s one of my favorite writers, and there’s no shame in that.