So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2015)

, 24 Jun 2016

"SYBPS" is a compassionate X-ray of shaming, shamers and shamees. Although the main focus is online and media shaming, other areas of life are also mentioned. SYBPS is Ronson's quest to learn how shaming works: why, who, and how, and how affects people. Ronson poses poignant questions to the reader and try to answer them by talking to people who experienced shaming first-hand. The questions are really good, intriguing and the answers worth pursuing:
~ Is modern shaming similar, better or worse than shaming in the 18th and 19th centuries?
~ How do we explain the shaming frenzy in our time?
~ Who is doing the shaming these days?
~ Who are those shamed and why?
~ Is shaming justified any time?
~ Does the online mob needs of constant drama?
~ What rush overpower us at times to turn us into a lynching mob?
~ What do we get out of vitriolic shaming?
~ Why do we dehumanise the people we hurt and shame?
~ Why is modern shaming so hardly and clearly misogynistic?
~ Did any of the shamees escaped unscathed?
~ If so, how do they did it? Was something they did? The way they behaved? The way they felt? Good luck? 
~ Does shaming only work if the shamee feels ashamed?
~ Is shamelessness something that some people just have or can be taught?
~ How long does it take for a shamee to be forgotten online?
~ Does shaming works outside the online world?


Shamed tells us the stories of shamed people (those who were destroyed by the shaming and those who weren't) and of some shamers: 
> (Publicly shamed and destroyed) Johah Lehrer, a young pop-science journalist and celebrity author who was exposed by a modest hard-working unknown Michael Moynihan for making up things in his books. After being exposed he apologised publicly in front of a giant screen with real-time twits to be further vilified, shamed and destroyed.
> (Publicly shamed  and destroyed) Justine Sacco who made a stupid joke on AIDS on Twitter before catching a holiday flight to South Africa. The joke went viral and she was vilified, abused and had received death and rape threats before landing. She lost her job.
> (Professional shamer) Ted Poe worked as a judge for 30 years in Houston (Texas) and was renowned for publicly shaming defendants and also for giving sentences in which public shaming was part of the redemption.
> (Publicly shamed and destroyed) Hank, a tech developer who made a sexist joke to his friend Alex when attending a national tech conference in Santa Clara in 2013. A female tech overheard him, took a photo of them, twitted it with their comment and complained about their conduct. Hank was fired and vilified by  women's right groups.
(Public shamer and publicly shamed and destroyed) Adria Richards, the tech developer who exposed Hank, suffered a backlash to her exposé and received death and rape threats, verbal abuse and personal stalking as a result. She was also fired.
> (Publicly shamed and unscathed) Oswald Mosley, a formula-1 chief was filmed in a sadomasochist session with several hookers, which was labelled "nazi orgy" and exposed to the public by News of the World. A trial followed and he was cleared, compensated for defamation, and became  more popular than ever.
>  (Publicly exposed and forgiven, almost)  Andrew Ferreira, a pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, and six other people were videotaped having sex in a covered-up brothel located in a Zumba studio. The Police investigation exposed the place, exposed them and brought them to Court, with the cameras looking at them. The exposé had repercussions in their private lives, but shaming was never part of it except for the only woman in the group. 
> (Publicly shamed and unscathed) Mike Daisey was caught lying by journo Rob Schmitz in a story about a trip to China where he had supposedly met some workers in a factory making Apple products. He was interviewed for This American Life, one of America’s most popular radio shows, and although he tried to divert the questions he ended the interview admitting his lies and saying sorry. After the shaming began he reacted strongly against his critics until those stopped bothering him and disappeared.
> (Publicly shamed and destroyed) Lindsey Stone and her friend Jamie were used to getting silly photos in front of public signs, one of them happened to be taken in front of a Silence and Respect sign in the Arlington Cemetery and posted on Facebook. The viral reaction got Lindsey, abused, threatened, fired from work, and into a deep depression.  


This is my favourite book by Ronson, purely because for the most part Ronson is able to transcend his doppelganger self, the one that looks like a character in his books, to focus way deeper this time into a subject that seems close to his heart.What is more, unlike other works of his, Ronson is not interviewing weirdos, extremists or people who live on the edge but normal people, and what matters the most if not even them, it is shaming. I admire Ronson's compassion and empathy and his ability to dig beyond the surface to show us people as human beings and individuals, not as objects. We see him the most compassionate in SYBPS and also the most openly honest about some issues and shamees. Yet, Ronson's dare devil is still here, like other times, his quest takes him to dangerous territories: the set of a porn movie for example (hilarious!) and  he joins a group go get to know information about shaming in the judicial system. 


 SYBPS is really an enjoyable, intriguing and fascinating read overall. There are a few parts that I found really interesting. Some of them are: 
1/ The historical antecedents on shaming used to contextualise the research on modern shaming.
2/ The discussion on the validity and limitations of the Philip Zimbardo's social experiment in Standford in 1971, which is endlessly mentioned in pop-psychology books, without further questioning, to explain group psychology.  
2/ I loved Ronson's reflections on the long-life effects of shaming on shamees, even when everybody has forgotten about them. Google will get them out on the front page of certain searches. The Right to Be Forgotten Law issued by the European Court, the work of online reputation management companies and, how important is to trick Google's algorithm  to get the job done show how much collateral damage brutal shaming does to  shamees.
3/ The hints about how shaming is an integral part of the judicial system. That stupefies me even more than online shaming, to be honest.
4/ The references to the psychiatrist James Gilligan work with dangerous killers and how shame is an intrinsicate part of the mutation of their personality into monsters.
5/ The epilogue, in which Ronson mentions the backlash he suffered because some of the things he says in the book were decontextualised and manipulated before it was published. 


Personally I hate the shaming that comes from the Media and online sites. After reading this book I have witnessed two popular cases of mob shaming, one for a "joke" and another for an abusive counter-attack to a troll insults. However, I think that shaming can be good if done in private. People can be nasty on purpose, they *are* nasty on purpose, they would bully you, make denigrating comments to you and "joke" about you to undermine your psyche, your soul and your self-esteem. I feel is *my* right to let them know close doors that this is abuse, that is disrespectful behaviour and that I will take professional or personal action next time they think it is OK to do so. No yelling or lynching is necessary. If they think is OK to continue with their attitude and behaviour, public shaming is justified to me. This is very different, to me, from public shaming, mob shaming, mob lynching and Twitter mobbing. I believe that legal punishments, like those by Ted Poe might work wonders, as did for some people, but might destroy others.

I am sick of people being nasty, offensive, racist, sexist and "-ist" in general and then excusing their behaviour because it was a "joke". There is not need to lynch those people, but they need to learn that those jokes are not really jokes but camouflaged verbal abuse, and, because many of them already know that is the case, that you won't tolerate them or stand it. Some domestic violence examples show how jokes, demeaning jokes, are normally used to denigrate partners and are at the beginning of the relationship.I don't want to lynch anybody, but I will shame anybody who does shameful things to me or people I love.


One of the main takes from the book to me are Ronson's queries about why some people don't feel ashamed or shamed. The cure for shaming is empathy, Ronson says.That is very true. I agree that if everybody had a bit of empathy, put themselves in other people's shoes, people would not do certain things, would not offend, use or abuse other people, and mobs would not form as easily. Yet,manipulators, psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, and even borderlines do use other people's empathy as a tool against the empaths to use and abuse those very people. The cure for shaming is, Ronson adds, speaking up when you think a mob is lynching somebody for a bad joke. I agree. Mind, you will be lynched as well. Be ready and prepared. One my favourite recipes is given by Daisey, who refused to be shamed by his shamers despite doing something shameful:
"...The way we construct consciousness is to tell the story of ourselves to ourselves, the story of who we believe we are. I feel that a really public shaming or humiliation is a conflict between the person trying to write his own narrative and society trying to write a different narrative for the person. One story tries to overwrite the other. And so to survive you have to own your story. Or . . .’ Mike looked at me, ‘. . . you write a third story. You react to the narrative that’s been forced upon you.’ He paused. ‘You have to find a way to disrespect the other narrative,’ he said. ‘If you believe it, it will crush you.’ (Kindle Locations 2226-2231).

Ronson is a journalist, not a novelist, so don't expect the book to be literary. Obvious, no?

>  Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco, Lindsey Stone, Hank, Adria Richards, and Raquel had never  before spoken to a journalist about what had happened to them before this book.
> Ronson's interviews with Troy and Mercedes Haefer from 4chan appared published before in a column for the Guardian Weekend magazine as well as his story of how his son forced him  to re-enact being thrown into a lake.

Barely any. I noticed just two, which are the result of the conversion from printing format to digital format
> loc. 550 pointed outto me
> loc. 942 dehumaniz-ing them
Another great cover for the Kindle edition of the book! 

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