Emotional Health

Book Review: ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,’ by Jon Ronson

It’s interesting how just the smallest degree of distance can change our behavior. A frequently cited example that touches us all is how we behave in our cars. We have all seen examples (perhaps in ourselves?) of people whose manners as drivers are appalling, yet behave much better in personal encounters. They may not even be aware of how rude they are when they are behind the wheel in comparison with the “usual” public self they present. Is this a matter of real self vs. false self, or does the intimate contact allow us to be more empathic, and thus, more generous, towards the other? Unfortunately, these interesting questions are not pursued by Ronson in this book.

Another issue he doesn’t get to in his relatively short volume is why the employers of the two women I mentioned (and almost all others in the book) so quickly buckled to public pressure. I was curious about this. Did they feel they had no other option? Was it really the right choice, or the easy one? In Justine Sacco’s case, she was a PR person for a big media conglomerate. On the one hand, one could easily argue that someone in her job should definitely have better “PR” skills. On the other, who would be in a better position than her company was to fight back against the scurrilous attacks of these self-appointed bullies? And if big corporations cave so easily, doesn’t that just encourage people to keep doing it?

Is there any way to defend yourself against a social media storm? Robson dedicates a portion of the book to this. There are ways, but it is expensive and very difficult. The best thing to do, by far, is to keep your mouth shut. Why people feel compelled to broadcast their thoughts, accomplishments, travels, milestones, etc., to the wider world is also an interesting topic itself. Once again, adults have suffered by following too closely in their children’s footsteps. Celebrities have long known that they pay a steep price for being in the public eye. The rest of us are beginning to find that out.

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  • Toni Myers April 20, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    A fascinating topic and excellent book review. I want to read it.
    When I hear all too frequently of someone, often a famous someone, being shamed in social media, I tend to feel sad for the person-too easy to forget one is speaking or flashing to the world unintentionally. Other times, e.g. Anthony Wiener, I think, what an idiot! We’ve not yet adapted to our radically different world, in which your life can change in a moment if you say something on media which catches fire. Anonymous commenters can be vicious and apparently delight in judging.
    Many years ago I was riveted by the story of a young Peace Corps volunteer in an African country. She sent a postcard describing the terrible conditions. It turned into an international incident and she was sent home in shame.