So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed | Jon Ronson

Summary of: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
By: Jon Ronson


In a world filled with public shaming and online mobs, Jon Ronson’s book, ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’, delves into the history, mechanisms, and consequences of public shaming. From its origins in colonial America to its present-day resurgence via social media, the book illustrates the power of shame in transforming lives – for better or worse. We’ve all witnessed examples of individuals, or even companies, plummeting to disgrace in the blink of an eye. Masterfully navigating through the psychological and societal forces behind public shaming, Ronson provides an engaging and thought-provoking analysis on the complex dynamics of mob behavior and the often lasting impacts on its victims.

From medieval times to the digital era: the history of public shaming

Public shaming has been a form of punishment since medieval times, and while it was abolished in North America in the 19th century, it is experiencing a resurgence in the age of social media. Europeans who settled in the New World continued the practice of public shaming, with Puritan settlers preferring public whippings for transgressors. Opponents of public shaming, like Benjamin Rush, eventually called for its abolition in the late 1700s and by 1839 public punishments had been abolished in all states except Delaware. The author notes that public shaming wasn’t deemed ineffective, but rather perceived as brutal. Today, social media has brought back public shaming – seemingly minor infractions like a Facebook post of a woman shouting next to a “Silence and Respect” sign at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier generated thousands of protests and demands for her termination.

The Power Behind Public Shaming

Public shaming, once considered ineffective, has taken a new form in the age of social media. Through Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms, people can now easily organize and join public shaming campaigns. When LA Fitness refused to cancel a pregnant woman’s gym membership despite her husband’s unemployment, The Guardian exposed the company’s callousness, prompting a massive public shaming that led to charges being waived against the couple. Similarly, after author Jonah Lehrer was caught plagiarizing and fabricating quotes, users on internet message boards engaged in deprecatory and spiteful comments, leading to personal attacks against Lehrer. While public shaming can have negative consequences, it has proven to be an effective way to oppose injustice and hold people accountable for their actions.

Digital Shaming and Taking Back Control

Public shaming online is a powerful tool for those who feel disempowered in offline public spaces. The rise of digital shaming is no coincidence, as gentrification and policing policies take away people’s sense of control. This is exemplified by the “Stop and Frisk” policy in New York, where many innocent people are targeted. The online public shaming of Adria Richards is another example of reclaiming control. When participants on 4chan were interviewed, they expressed how online shaming gave them a sense of power. While it can lead to negative consequences, digital shaming is a means of expression for those who feel marginalized.

The Psychology of Online Cancelling

The Crowd Mentality behind Cancel Culture

Have you ever witnessed Twitter users attacking someone over a single tweet? This social phenomenon of public shaming, or cancelling, has become prevalent on social media. But why does this happen, and how do people get infected by it so quickly?

The Crowd, a book by Gustave Le Bon, explains that individuals act irrationally and impulsively in a large gathering, following the dynamics of the crowd. He refers to the sudden mayhem as “crowd madness.” However, social psychologist Steve Reicher opposes Le Bon’s view. He explains that people don’t unintentionally join forces with the crowd, but instead follow their own moral convictions.

Group activities are not always like dancing and having fun. People may join in group behavior, like cancelling someone on Twitter, because of their own beliefs. Cancelling usually occurs when someone’s tweet is considered against the personal values of others, and they take it upon themselves to show collective outrage.

In summary, crowd behavior can influence public shaming, but it’s not just the group dynamics. Cancelling happens because of personal beliefs, and it is essential to understand the psychology behind it.

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