So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (audiobook)

In brief: After Jon Ronson’s identity is stolen by a Twitter bot, he starts to talk to people that have been publicly shamed in the modern era and those who do the shaming. What’s the fallout?

The good: Interesting premise on how the internet has made anyone into a potential shamer – or the shamed.

The not-so-good: Jumped about a bit and I lost interest at times.

Why I chose it: Read an article in a newspaper about the book.

Year: 2015

Duration: 7 hours 26 minutes (book is 304 pages)

Narrator: Jon Ronson

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

After reading an article in a newspaper about this book and how public shaming has made a comeback via social media, I decided that this would be a perfect audiobook. I quite like listening to non-fiction (when reading non-fiction, I often need a fiction read on the go for escapism purposes). I can’t say I loved this book though – to me, it was uneven, spending a long time on some topics and a too short a time on others. The book is narrated by Jon Ronson himself. While it was interesting to have him read his own work, at times his voice lacked the power to keep me listening intently.

I’m kind of worried about publishing this review in case I should be publicly shamed or ridiculed but that’s the chance we all take when we share things with virtual strangers, people we know from pre-school and your cousin’s friend’s sister’s ex-boyfriend. Suddenly the world has become a much smaller place and everything on social media is there to be judged by others. Ronson starts with his name being taken over by a Tweetbot who likes strange food combinations. He feels like someone has taken his identity and he goes to reason with the perpetrators who see no issue with it. Ronson then goes on to discuss things with those who have been publicly shamed online, such as Jonah Lehrer (who invented/changes some lines in his book that were attributed to Bob Dylan), Justine Sacco (the infamous ‘hope I don’t get AIDS’ tweet which went viral while she was on a plane) and Lindsey Stone (photo next to a sign at a war cemetery saying ‘silence and respect’ while she’s doing the opposite). He interviews the person who was shamed and also if possible those who did/were involved in the outing.

It’s an interesting philosophy to see what those who shared the picture/retweeted the tweet have to say as is the shamed person’s reason for doing what they did. Pre internet, these photos and messages would have only been shared with a few people. Now everyone is the judge. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of most of the shamed people Ronson interviewed (most of this must explode on social media while I’m asleep) and those that ‘broke’ while I was online, I didn’t really follow. I actually thought Jonah Lehrer was ‘Joan Alhera’ or ‘Joe Nalhera’ for most of the audiobook. Ronson discusses with them how their life changed and how/if it getting back to normal. Justine Sacco went to volunteer in Africa. Lindsey Stone was aided by some digital media people to push down her results on Google by adding new blog posts.

The ending of the book is quite open. It didn’t really summarise or ask how (or if) public shaming can be controlled in the modern world. I felt it was a bit weak, more like a series of vignettes of people who had been shamed rather than examining human behaviour in general. Sure, Ronson does include some psychology in this field (like why you keep driving under the speed limit after one of those ‘Your speed is…’ signs) but it would have been good to include a deeper analysis.

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