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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 308

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed addresses the resurgence of public shaming in the age of social media. Moreover, however, it speaks to the human tendency to derive enjoyment from such a practice. The author, Jon Ronson, explains that while public whippings in western societies disappeared by the mid-1800s, public shaming continued in other forms. Journalists shame celebrities by publicizing their indiscretions in tabloid newspapers, and ordinary tweeters and bloggers publicly shame others on social media websites. In this environment, issues quickly escalate to scandals that dominate the public interest, and the lives of the victims are forever changed.

The problem with public shaming, according to Ronson, is not simply that it devastates careers and squashes ambitions, but that it leaves deep psychological scars on the victims that are close to impossible to heal. It is a form of punishment without the possibility of redemption, and in Ronson’s view, we’re all guilty of enjoying this kind of punishment when it is inflicted on others. The disturbing message of this book is that in the age of social media, we are all at risk of being publicly shamed, as seemingly harmless remarks posted to twitter or other sites are taken out of context and believed to mean something they’re not. Therefore, the safest route to take when posting anything to social media is to walk on eggshells and remain as bland as possible, being careful not to express opinions or make remarks that could possibly offend the far right, the far left, or anyone in between. Ronson’s humorous treatment of the subject makes the book highly enjoyable, but the message that runs through the book is a highly disturbing commentary on American society today. It highlights the contradictory nature of a communication medium that encourages social commentary and discourages it at the same time.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 238

So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a book by British journalist Jon Ronson originally published in 2015. It begins with a personal story of how Ronson himself was the target of a parody Twitter account and then expands to discuss some of the more notorious incidents of public shaming that became viral on the internet. It draws some historical parallels with the way that public shaming functioned in the early American colonies as a means of enforcing moral norms.

Ronson's approach is journalistic with a strong eye for the striking example or anecdote. He recounts famous (or infamous) examples of public shaming, such as the story of Jonah Lehrer, who was a successful writer discovered to have plagiarized and fabricated some of his journalism, or of Lindsey Stone, who became infamous for a single social media photo.

A major theme of the book is how to balance the importance of calling out certain types of bad or fraudulent behavior with the use of public shaming, doxxing, and virality as a form of vigilantism and bullying. As Gamergate and similar controversies have shown, the tools of internet shaming can be used to attack and humiliate people unjustly as well as justly.

Ronson's treatments of this issue reveal individual human circumstances behind viral shaming and references the moral dilemmas involved, although he does not provide the sort of complex ethical or historical analysis that one might find in a scholarly work.


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 174

So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a case study of public shaming and examines the evolution of public punishment. The author, Jon Ronson, focuses on the dehumanization caused by public shaming. A person can be publicly shamed for a crime they have committed or shamed simply for posting a sarcastic tweet. Ronson explicates that observers succumb to the mob mentality online easily, and, in essence, they strip the offender of his humanity by making him into a villain. Offenders are publicly embarrassed, corrected, and punished by the mob leaving them feeling as if they cannot participate in society again, whether that be through social media or face-to-face interactions.

Ronson also explores how the phenomenon of public shaming causes us as individuals to conform in an effort to avoid public ridicule.

Ronson writes:

“We’re creating a culture where people feel constantly surveilled, where people are afraid to be themselves.”

In short, Jon Ronson seems to argue that life is more interesting when we allow each other to make mistakes without fear of being silenced.