I’ve been a big fan of Jon Ronson’s work for many years, he’s put together an astonishing collection of material, ranging from Them: Adventures with Extremists to his work on the excellent film Frank. This one sees Jon travelling around the world to meet up with people that have been publicly shamed. Most of us have said or done things we’ve regretted but very few of us have seen our lives taken apart for them.
The story begins in January 2012 when Jon discovers another Jon Ronson on Twitter using a photo of his face. It turns out that this is actually a spambot operated by academics, whose reasoning and explanation for the whole thing is somewhat bizarre. The online response Jon gets to posting about this makes him very happy and the owners take it down, presumably as they’ve been shamed into doing so.
Large organisations have been shamed, such as the Daily Mail after a column about Stephen Gately and La Fitness after they refused to cancel the gym memberships of a couple who had lost their jobs. Jon realises people have a voice now on social networks and blogs and we’re at the start of a new renaissance of social shaming. He decides that he’ll be there to cover the next few big examples of this.
Jon wonders how it feels to be Jonah Lehrer, someone found out by Michael Moynihan fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. Michael had been apprehensive about following the story and publishing it, worried about the effect on Jonah and his family. The story was published and Jonah’s book was pulped with refunds offered and his previous writing pulled apart. Jonah did decided to publicly apologise, but when he did so it was with a screen showing a Twitter feed where people had an opportunity to take him apart and he could see the shaming happen live.
Justine Sacco published a tweet before boarding a plane and when she switched the phone on at the other end she found she was trending worldwide. It’s astonishing how much impact a single tweet could have across the globe, with Justine saying that people were threatening to go on strike at hotels she was booked into if she showed up, due to safety concerns.
Jon highlights that we’re living in a world where people attack unknowns who make misguided comments or jokes or other things that are seen as flaws. Public shaming is something that eats away at the soul, with people known the world over for something that could really be very small. He worries about the people he’s personally shamed and recalls his own experience of being bullied in Cardiff years ago.
He wonders about the people that have come out the other end of a shaming, such as Max Mosley and a pastor that was caught visiting a prostitute. He says we all care about things that may seem inconsequential to others and we all have out own vulnerabilities. A lot of crime it seems is caused after people have been shamed and Jon asks if it’s time we stop shaming people.
This is a book that really reveals some of the problems with the modern world, how quick people are to jump on minor things and turn them into major talking points. As always Jon gets to the heart of what makes people tick and we see the huge impact shaming has had on the lives of many. Jon’s writing is witty and insightful and it’s always to pleasure to read his thoughts on every topic he covers.