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So You've Been Publicly Shamed
Cover of So You've Been Publicly Shamed
So You've Been Publicly Shamed
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Now a New York Times bestseller and from the author of The Psychopath Test, a captivating and brilliant exploration of one of our world's most underappreciated forces: shame.

'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.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws - and the very scary part we all play in it.

Now a New York Times bestseller and from the author of The Psychopath Test, a captivating and brilliant exploration of one of our world's most underappreciated forces: shame.

'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.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You've Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws - and the very scary part we all play in it.

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  • From the book

    One

    This story begins in early January 2012, when I noticed that another Jon Ronson had started posting on Twitter. His photograph was a photograph of my face. His Twitter name was @Jon_Ronson. His most recent tweet, which appeared as I stared in surprise at his timeline, read: "Going home. Gotta get the recipe for a huge plate of guarana and mussel in a bap with mayonnaise :D #yummy."

    "Who are you?" I tweeted him.

    "Watching #Seinfeld. I would love a big plate of celeriac, grouper and sour cream kebab with lemongrass. #foodie," he tweeted.

    I didn't know what to do.

    The next morning I checked @Jon_Ronson's timeline before I checked my own. In the night he had tweeted, "I'm dreaming something about #time and #cock."

    He had twenty followers. Some were people I knew from real life, who were probably wondering why I'd suddenly become so passionate about fusion cooking and candid about dreaming about cock.

    I did some digging. I discovered that a young researcher, formerly of Warwick University, called Luke Robert Mason had a few weeks earlier posted a comment on the Guardian site. It was in response to a short video I had made about spambots. "We've built Jon his very own infomorph," he wrote. "You can follow him on Twitter here: @Jon_Ronson."

    Oh, so it's some kind of spambot, I thought. Okay. This will be fine. Luke Robert Mason must have thought I would like the spambot. When he finds out that I don't, he'll remove it.

    So I tweeted him: "Hi!! Will you take down your spambot please?"

    Ten minutes passed. Then he replied, "We prefer the term infomorph."

    I frowned. "But it's taken my identity," I wrote.

    "The infomorph isn't taking your identity," he wrote back. "It is repurposing social media data into an infomorphic esthetic."

    I felt a tightness in my chest.

    "#woohoo damn, I'm in the mood for a tidy plate of onion grill with crusty bread. #foodie," @Jon_Ronson tweeted.

    I was at war with a robot version of myself.

    A month passed. @Jon_Ronson was tweeting twenty times a day about its whirlwind of social engagements, its "soirees," and its wide circle of friends. It now had fifty followers. They were getting a disastrously misrepresentative depiction of my views on soirees and friends.

    The spambot left me feeling powerless and sullied. My identity had been redefined all wrong by strangers and I had no recourse.

    I tweeted Luke Robert Mason. If he was adamant that he wouldn't take down his spambot, perhaps we could at least meet? I could film the encounter and put it on YouTube. He agreed, writing that he'd be glad to explain the philosophy behind the infomorph. I replied that I'd certainly be interested to learn the philosophy behind the spambot.

    I rented a room in central London. I sat there, nervously waiting. On the dot of our prearranged meeting, Luke arrived with two other men—the team behind the spambot. All three were academics. They had met at Warwick University. Luke was the youngest of the three, handsome, in his twenties, a "researcher in technology and cyberculture and director of the Virtual Futures Conference," according to his online CV. David Bausola looked like a rakish teacher, the sort of person who might speak at a conference on the literature of Aleister Crowley. He was a "creative technologist" and the CEO of the digital agency Philter Phactory. Dan O'Hara had a shaved head, and eyes that were piercing and annoyed-looking. His jaw was clenched. He was in his late thirties, a lecturer in English and American literature at the...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 26, 2015
    Bestselling author Ronson (The Psychopath Test) ruminates on high-profile shaming in the social-media age in this witty work. He interviews disgraced pop-science author Jonah Lehrer, fresh off a hellish apology tour, and the remorseful journalist who outed Lehrer as a plagiarist. PR executive Justine Sacco reflects on her own life, left in ruins after a single ill-conceived tweet, and elsewhere Ronson recounts how an inappropriate comment at a tech convention devolved into bedlam, with online threats of rape and death. For historical perspective, Ronson goes into 19th-century stockades, public whippings, and the theory of “group madness” popularized by Gustave LeBon, inspiration for the controversial Stanford Prison Experiments, in which ordinary students were transformed into sadistic guards. Ronson’s explorations also take him to an S&M sex club, a ridiculous “shame-eradication workshop,” and a therapy program for incarcerated women run by former New Jersey governor James McGreevey. Ronson is self-reflective and honest about his own complicity in the cultural piling-on he observes, recalling a spite-fueled campaign he orchestrated via Twitter against a journalist. Clever and thought-provoking, this book has the potential to open an important dialogue about faux moral posturing online and its potentially disastrous consequences. Agent: Natasha Fairweather, United Agents.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2015
    The author of works about everyday psychopathologies takes a hard look at the dark side of shaming on social media.This American Life contributor Ronson (Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, 2012, etc.) believes that via social media, we are creating a contemporary version of Hawthorne's Massachusetts Bay Colony, awarding scarlet letters with gleeful viciousness to people who often are more guilty of silliness and indiscretion than they are of any egregious social (or actual) felony. Ronson begins with an incident in his own life: some computer guys who adopted his name on Twitter and tweeted things that the author despised. Then he examines case studies of specific individuals, most of whom he sought out and interviewed. Among them are plagiarists and fabricators (a Bob Dylan biographer who created quotations), a woman who tweeted an insensitive racial comment, a couple of guys in an audience who said noxious things overheard by a person nearby, and a woman who posted a photograph of herself making an obscene gesture at Arlington National Cemetery. Due to the swarms on social media, virtually all of these people lost their jobs, reputations and privacy. Digging into the backgrounds of these stories, Ronson unearths relevant information about shaming in the courtroom (a principal strategy employed by lawyers on both sides), the "unshaming" process (and how it can be very effective with prison inmates), and psychological experiments that show the extent to which humans will go to shame others. He also writes about computer whizzes who, for a substantial fee, can play with your name on Google search so that your indiscretions appear in a much diminished way (several pages down, where most searchers don't look). Another intriguing journey from Ronson, who notes that our social media dark side grows ever darker when we believe we're superior to others-and anonymous.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2014
    In 2012, Ronson's online identity was stolen by three academics. Indignant supporters rose up when he chastised them publicly, but Ronson soon began considering how much public shaming as social control is still with us, even if those scarlet letters have been pitched in the wastebasket. From the author of the "New York Times" best seller "The Psychopath Test".

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 1, 2015
    Is technology moving humankind forward, or does the powerful reach of social media hearken back to the public floggings of the past? The author of The Men Who Stare at Goats (2005) and The Psychopath Test (2011) takes a hard look at modern-day shaming in his provocative new book. Inspired by an episode where a spambot impersonated him on Twitter, Ronson employs his typical investigatory approach to take the reader on a years-long exploration of humiliation via technology, his curious mind pursuing new avenues of inquiry as they open up. He recounts the real-time Twitter shaming of a disgraced author, which was displayed on a feed the author could see as he was making his apology speech; the race-tinged tweet of a public-relations executive that upended her life; and the story behind a Facebook photo that mightily offended members of the military and their supporters. Beyond that, though, he talks to those involvedboth the people shamed and those who acted as instruments for their humiliationabout their motivations, what the experience did to them, and whether they recovered. With confidence, verve, and empathy, Ronson skillfully informs and engages the reader without excusing those caught up in the shame game. As he stresses, we are the ones wielding this incredible power over others' lives, often with no regard for the lasting consequences of our actions.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

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So You've Been Publicly Shamed
So You've Been Publicly Shamed
Jon Ronson
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