“On Twitter we make our own decisions about who deserves obliteration. We form our own consensus, and we aren’t being influenced by the criminal justice system or the media. This makes us formidable.”
The British journalist Jon Ronson wrote a book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and it’s about the effects of public humiliation in the internet age. Along with the true events of some well-known shaming on the internet, Ronson let the reader hear stories from both the shamed and the shaming.
It started with Ronson’s own experience. A similar Twitter handler to his name was created by the creators of spambots and when Ronson asked them to remove it, they refused but agree to talk in person. Ronson then recorded the interaction and posted it on YouTube. The video evoked numerous shaming towards the creators and they finally agreed to terminate the counterfeit Twitter account. The experience asked Ronson to re-evaluate other public shamings and its effects on both shamers and shamees. He did interviews with prominent victims of public shaming over the Internet, and the instigators of these shaming events.
The first story is about a science journalist who plagiarised and misused the quotes. He was later exposed by another journalist. Another is a PR woman whose insensitively racist joke on Twitter and how it caused her job and other downfalls in her life. The book also includes about two guys being shamed for one poor joke heard by a woman sitting in front of them at a conference. She took a photo of them and shared it on internet condemning them. Both men were fired from their job. When one of the men—now unemployed with wife and kids—apologised his inappropriate joke and mentioned that he lost the job for one silly mistake made within 5 seconds, the internet people swarmed towards the woman who shared the photo. There are a few more occasions presented in the book.
Ronson talked about ancient time public shaming and its dehumanising acts occurred at the crowded place or in the middle or a busy road. He continued with how and why it had stopped. At some places, shaming is still used as a punishment but not to the degree of high extent public shaming. He also briefly explained about the goolge’s search engine algorithm as well as how to mitigate from severe damage if you get shamed. It is such a thought provoking read.
We all are people with a mixture of various flaws but we are also people who are intellectual and have good hearts. I’m not saying it is wrong voice out for the people who made racist comment or homophobic joke or inappropriate behaviour towards kids with special needs. We have to voice out. And when we call out for people who do wrong, we also have to consider the impact of our action. How much is enough? To what extent that person should be suffered?
In his 2015 TED Talk ‘How one tweet can ruin your life’, Jon concluded with the following remark, “The great thing about social media is how it gives a voice to voiceless people, but now we’re creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless. Let’s not do that.”
In courtroom trial, people have a chance to defend and their pleas are listened intently. Innocent until proven guilty. And if found guilty and when they’ve served for their terms, they can go back to their lives. However, if you get trailed over the internet for a silly comment, people all over the world will call you various demeaning names and your life will get derailed. People will democratise their will to do justice and punish you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be punished for being insensitive or inappropriate or for being oblivious because of your privilege. But to what extent? To get fired? To never able to step outside your house? In this day and age, every move we made is seen and recorded permanently on internet. We all Google other people’s names. Your potential employer definitely searches you name and so does your date. What will our future become if we have been shamed over the internet? Will we ever get employed? Will we ever find people who want to be associated with us? And if we do, there’s a constant fear of people finding out your dark past will be looming over our head.