So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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It’s been a while since I read a book in one sitting, but now that feeling has returned to my butt, I’ve gotta say – a real page turner.  I had to ask myself why I was so intrigued with a story about shaming.  Perhaps, Twitter stories gone bad can be so, well… Shadenfreude.  Except the stories in his book are so not about ‘secret glee at the expense of others’ misfortune – quite the opposite. They involve the piling on of an innocent or near innocent.  This book is a modern day cautionary tale.

I became aware of the book through a link that took me to a podcast of Ronson being interviewed. He is an exuberant and skillful interrupter and I was immediately smitten, because I am a bit of an interrupter myself, and I understand behind all that verbal elbowing lies someone who is passionate about their topic.

Jon Ronson became aware of the topic he would write about in January, 2012 when he noticed another Jon Ronson posting on Twitter with his picture. Well, you know, one thing led to another and before long the writer had three posers on the couch doing a video interview, in an attempt to justify why they weren’t ever going to take down @Jon_Ronson, the bizarre gourmand some auto bot created.  The three of them sitting on the couch, quazi-intellectualizing about … No – you just gotta see it for yourself.  I’ll wait.

From that episode, Ronson tracks down and interviews the people we’ve all heard about.

Jonah Lehrer, the New York Times best selling author called: Imagine: How Creativity Works brought down by a wee bit of plagiarism by misquoting and/or reinventing a quote by Bob Dylan – his star creativity character.  He was exposed by Michael C. Moynihan, a freelance writer and unfortunately for Lehrer, a fan of Dylan.

On December 20, 2013, Justine Sacco who had been tweeting silly little jokes to her 170 followers about her holiday travels.

“There was her joke about the German man on the plane from New York: “Weird German Dude: Get some deodorant.-Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.”  Then the layover at Heathrow:  “Chili-cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. back in London!”  Then the final leg: “Going to Africa.  Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding.  I’m white!”

Of course we all know the aftermath.  According to Ronson, she was googled 1,220,000 between December 20th and the end of December.

Remember Lindsey Stone?  You may not recall the name, but the picture may strike a chord. Lindsey poses next to an Arlington National Cemetery sign that said ‘Silence and Respect’ with her mouth wide open simulating a scream with her middle (FU) finger in the air.

“So,” Lindsay said, “thinking we were funny, Jamie (her friend) posted it on Facebook and tagged me on it with my consent because I thought it was hilarious.”

I certainly don’t understand twitter and social media. And I certainly don’t understand why the hatred, vitriol and nastiness surfaces like a feeding frenzy in the piranha tank when someone seemingly makes a mistake.  But Ronson takes us to other side of the madness.  To the real life people with families and lives that are irreparably ruined because they have gamely participated in social media or in some ways have made a social or professional blunder.

“I suppose that when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.  The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche.”

Everyone needs to read this complex book.  A cautionary tale that goes something like – “There for but the grace of god, goes I.”  It’s a book about crowd mentality, who is controlling the ship and if it goes bad, it can go really bad.

If nothing else, it will make you rethink the “post” and “send” button.

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Have a super day and continue to be awesome!


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