I discovered Jon Ronson earlier this year thanks to his very compassionate TED Talk “When online shaming goes too far“. I agreed with his ideas however unpopular they are in the modern world, where we’re okay with shaming people for a thing they’ve done or allegedly done wrong and then join the crowd in destroying their lives. Do you really think that shaming people online is harmless or perhaps that some people “deserve it”? Then read on…
In “You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” Ronson explores some of the most famous cases of shaming: the tweet of Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer’s books that included fabrications, Max Mosley’s sex party with allegedly Nazi uniforms and many others you have certainly heard about. The structure of the book is a bit chaotic so I’ll try to discuss briefly its most important points:
Is It Even True?
The first problem with shaming and particularly with online shaming that Ronson points out is that often what people are getting bent out of shape about is often just an interpretation. In a way the source of the outrage becomes irrelevant very quickly. People join in madness in the blink of an eye and no one tries to discover the real story. Those who disagree with the shaming crowd keep quiet, scared to be shamed as well.
Even If It Is True, Do They Deserve It?
The first scenario when what you’ve said has been misinterpreted or presented in a bad light is even more tragic. However, even if the shamed person has done something wrong the question remains whether they deserve to get the treatment they get and have their lives ruined. We all make mistakes and some mistakes should be punished but is an eternal punishment not a bit too harsh?
People online say the worst stuff about those who are being shamed. Particularly women are often threatened and sent death and rape wishes. Both men and women are being called names. Sure, it’s not okay to do what they did but two wrongs don’t make it right.
Very often as a result of the outrage they end up losing their jobs whether the allegations are true or not because people don’t want to be associated with them.
When the madness subsides and someone else becomes the new victim of the crowd, the lives of people who have been shamed do not get back to normality. The magic of Google makes it possible for people to find your dirty little secret very quickly and no one wants to hire you for a very long time. Can you imagine dating after such an experience? You’re even in trouble if you just share the name with the person who’s been shamed.
Ronson discusses many other things in the book that I won’t go into details of but that make it even more worth reading:
- new laws in Europe making it possible for people to “whitelist” their names
- the very pricey specialist who may help you “whitelist” your name
- the history of shaming
- other ways of modern shaming
- Twitter bots used to create fake Twitter accounts
- the best way to handle shaming if it happens to you
The book is well written, if somewhat chaotic and it’s a very quick read. It’ll likely leave you a bit shaken, though. If you’ve ever participated in shaming you may start feeling very very bad about it now that you know what kind of consequences it has on a person. After all, whatever they’ve done, they’re still human. We LOVE being righteous and if someone is wrong it gives us a great opportunity to do so. However, isn’t shaming others a lame way to feel better about ourselves? Besides, who hasn’t said something stupid in their lives or something that could be misinterpreted?
I guess my main conclusion after reading this book is that we should try to be compassionate and not assume the worst of others. We should also remember that our actions matter and that with a mindless reshare can contribute to someone’s pain.
For those who think that we should pay forever for even the smallest mistakes, I’m leaving some food for thought with this video about a man, who actually used to do bad things but turned his life around. Watch the TED talk by Christian Picciolini here.