Review by Divyajyot Joshi
“It may be somewhat paradoxical to refer to shame as a ‘feeling’, for while shame is initially painful, constant shaming leads to a deadening of feeling. Shame, like cold, is, in essence, the absence of warmth. And when it reaches an overwhelming intensity, shame is experienced like cold, as a feeling of numbness and deadness. [In Dante’s Inferno] the lowest circle of hell was a region not of flames, but of ice – absolute coldness”
—- James Gilligan, Violence: Reflections on the Deadliest Epidemic
“Shame is an incredibly inarticulate emotion. It’s something you bathe in, it’s not something you wax eloquent about. It’s such a deep, dark, ugly thing there are very few words for it”
— An Interviewee
Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” began when his twitter identity was hijacked by a spam-bot, the hijackers claimed was an infomorph. Following the reaction of the online community that shamed the uploaders into acquiescence, the writer discovered the renaissance of public shaming through the weapon of online flogging. During the course of the book, we travel with Ronson as he tries to understand the reasons behind the phenomena of shaming and why exactly does a community of online users gear up for this particular method. He interviews people who bore the brunt of online twitter shaming, along with those who organized massive online shaming campaigns, the causes and the devastating consequences of such social flogging which, in certain cases both sides had to encounter. Ronson looks into the psychology of group madness, an emotional contagion that affects and creates a mob of people. To understand the whole human exercise of shaming, the writer interviews porn artists, businessmen, an erstwhile bestselling writer caught and tried in an online kangaroo twitter court, lovers of jubiliant online chaos- the 4chan denizens and the DDoSers.
My favorite part was the section describing an European court ruling on “The Right to be Forgotten” and online reputation management. Companies specializing in these areas, offer services to the victims of cyber-bullying and revenge porn (a hideous tactic employed by many a sick douchebags, posting pornographic pictures as a means of revenge). But it also generate the faultlines of truth manipulation and subverting free speech. It was however this ethically grey area of cyberspace that helped a girl, victimized by a brutal online shaming campaign, to reestablish a decent online reputation. Creating a dignified virtual self, where people would get to know her as a person and not some freakshow attraction of an online shaming spectacle.
With many insights, on the social mechanism behind virtual lynching, the book posits the dangers against knee jerk social shaming campaigns. Hiding behind the truism of a snowflake remaining innocent of its participation in the avalanche, only furthers the problem.
As far as critiquing is concerned, this book is a sure-shot double thumbs up, a well narrated and fresh read. Never judgmental or critical in his approach with people, Ronson manages to bring a self reflective, balanced voice with many intelligent insights during the course of this book.
The secret East German police force of the cold war era, The Stasi, wanted to create the world’s elaborate surveillance system. One favorite tactic of the Stasi was to spray radiation on suspected enemies while they were asleep and then trail their movements during daytime by following them with a Geiger counter. Scary Isn’t it!!!!!!
I discovered this little detail and my next read, from Ronson. The book cited by Jonson is Anna Funder’s “Stasiland”, is a scary account of the dangerous times under the Stasi regime. I wonder what sights await me there, but that’s the mystique of reading, a journey, a travel, a discovery resting inside a book, waiting to be witnessed.
About the Reviewer
Content Writer. StoryTeller. Movie Maniac. Book Gobbler. Fascinated by Crime stories, horror fiction and things that go bump in the night.