So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson – Book Review
The majority of things we say on line disappear into oblivion. We put them up there in the hopes of amusing our friends or in an attempt to sound smart. They appear at the top of someone’s news feed, before slowly working down the page and then get lost in amongst the thousands of other stray comments and images of cats/ dogs/ babies. Often we say things without really thinking or without considering how someone could interpret what we say in an unusual fashion. Sometimes the internet can be a positive place, where movements can start and gather pace as people speak their minds on particular topics. The #wakingthefeminists movement is one such idea that shows how these things can grow. The internet can also be a dangerous place, where off handed remarks or stray tweets can have you black listed forever. This book is largely a collection of things that went horribly wrong, snowballed out of all proportions and ended up being the defining parts of someone’s life.
It starts with a case from Jon’s own life, where a couple of academics make a bot ‘Jon Ronson’ on twitter, which talks about his love of food and bland tip bits of information. This troubles the real Jon Ronson who sets out trying to make the academics remove it from the online world. This is not as easy as you would expect, but harnessing the power of the internet and public opinion, they are shamed into removing the offending bot. Jon views this as a positive power of the internet but after some research on the topic, there are a variety of other people who have not faired so well. Take the case of Justine Sacco. She put up the following tweet – ‘Going to Africa, hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’. It is a fairly cutting comment on the face of it, but really what she is getting at is exposing the difference between the statistics for AIDS between the white and black community in Africa. It was possibly a step too far and as she is involved PR, she should really have known better. Did it make little of the AIDS epidemic in Africa? Possibly. Did it show any racist slant or views? I would argue quite the opposite. After several traumatic weeks, Justine lost her job and had been branded a racist by the internet, and all because of a 12 word tweet.
We get to meet those that have had their lives ruined by the internet. Some by something small or trivial that became more and others that were found out by the powers it unleashes. Ronson follows the trail of many such stories in this collection of case studies on the topic. He meets with those involved and tries to see the story from their side. It is an interesting collection of articles that will make your finger pause before you hit send!