2015, 269 P.
One of the problems with a media-savvy author who travels the world promoting his book is that by the time you get round to reading it, you feel as if you’ve already done so.
This was the case for me with this book, which I had heard about through multiple interviews on different Radio National programs. The author, who had his own taste of being the victim of cyber-stalking, becomes fascinated by the phenomenon of shaming over the Internet as a modern manifestation of an older form of punishment and social control. In particular, he tells the stories of Jonah Lehrer who fabricated quotes in an article on Bob Dylan, and Justine Sacco whose flippant sarcasm in a tweet about being white and the likelihood of catching AIDS went viral. Both were deluged with internet outrage and it’s no exaggeration to say that their lives were destroyed.
Ronson examines the use of shaming in formal legal settings. He discusses Judge Ted Poe who orders deliberately shaming punishments for the offenders who appeared in his court, and he fact-checks the Stanford Prison Experiment which has been offered up as ‘evidence’ that we are all capable of evil actions once a social-media crowd phenomenon gets started. He meets people who have started internet fire-storms, and attends a shame eradication workshop established by an enterprising psychotherapist. Finally, in a hopeful sign that there can be redemption, he meets representatives of a company which specializes in white-washing Google search results for people who have been subjected to public shaming.
Of course, through his book Ronson shames these people again by publicizing their plights anew and I found his smug voyeurism rather off-putting. Nonetheless, many of his points resonated. I found myself thinking of Monica Lewinsky’s powerful TED talk The Price of Shame and Waleed Aly’s recent Andrew Olle lecture where he noted the rush to emote rather than to think.
The book was an easy enough read. I just felt that I’d already heard it all before.
Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
My rating: 7/10