So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Social media users have real power to judge and punish strangers. They have ended careers, destroyed reputations, burned close relationships and threatened the physical safety of their targets.

At first, journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test) thought that "the renaissance in public shaming was a good thing." He describes the bliss of feeling supported and vindicated as a participant in online attacks, part of a new "democratization of justice." He began to research public shaming in the U.S. and U.K., and over the course of three years, his perspective shifted and expanded. In So You've Been Publicly Shamed, he examines public shamings of the past and in modern courts and prisons; the sketchy science behind "group madness" and the Stanford Prison Experiment; the effects of various shamings on specific victims and perpetrators and their attempts to resist and recover from it. He repeatedly shows how shamers act from a sense that they are serving justice, maintaining the feeling of their own goodness and humanity by dehumanizing their targets. As always, public shaming is used to enforce compliance with community standards, and in response, individuals begin to censor themselves. "We see ourselves as nonconformist," Ronson writes, "but I think all of this is creating a more conformist, conservative age."

Ronson leavens his serious material with humor as he leads the reader through his investigations and developing thoughts. Although his focus is on social media, what he discovers is relevant to all of human society. --Sara Catterall

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