13 September, 2015
So You've Been Publicly Shamed (Weekend Reads)
Brilliant. This is a bloody brilliant book.
I had high expectations for it because I really like Jon Ronson. He has the best TED talk ever. He is a funny and engaging writer. This book is both. And kind of scary at the same time.
To be perfectly honest, I picked it up because I live in this here online world. I've chosen to share parts of my life, of myself, online. As a published author myself I know I live in the public realm. (Although, I write quilt books and my audience is small compared to most in that realm.) While I am very thankful to have not been the subject of any online shaming nor really had any awful experiences with trolls so far, I also know that it could happen at any time. I thought this book might provide some insight into the mentality that goes into those behaviours.
It strikes a number of chords. From the mob mentality of Twitter take downs, to the consequences of brutal honesty. It also touches on whether people feel shame or not and how that can have an impact on perceived shame. At the same time he tells the stories of people who've experienced some awful shaming, and others who weathered what should have been awful shaming but came out relatively unscathed. What's different? (Hint: it often has to do with consensual sex.)
One of the storytelling elements he uses, quite successfully, is to be a part of the story. He opens with his own experience of having a parody Twitter account started in his name. This gets him thinking, interviewing, researching, and exploring the act of public shaming. It is always him in the story, talking to the players (all sides, where possible), trying to understand what the heck is going on. I got the sense that it was all very confusing and frustrating at times. Sometimes the subjects of the shaming did not necessarily see fault in what they did, other times the response far outweighed the inappropriate action that started it all. Both are frustrating. And he really is genuinely trying to find understanding.
It is very clear, no matter what, that we all have a role to play in managing ourselves online. Not only is it remembering that you are in a public forum that never forgets, therefore watch what you say. But also, watch how you respond. Think before you react. You see this all this time on Twitter or Facebook. Endless forwarding of things people have never actually read, gut level responses to public events, and the general forgetfulness that the rest of the online world consists of REAL people with feelings.
You don't necessarily need So You've Been Publicly Shamed to get that. And most likely the people who are going to be that shaming mob are not going to read the book. But it is a well told story of exploration into a fluid world that we are still only beginning to understand.
Bonus: Ronson has another TED talk on one of the stories from this book.