So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed looks at recent examples of public shamings and the effect that this has on the life of the shamed. Case studies include an author who fabricated quotes for his book, former FIA president Max Mosley, an individual who took a rather ill-judged photo in Arlington Cemetery and many others.
Reading this book, I felt that the majority of cases were the result of poor judgement. For example, one case study focussed on an individual who had made a joke on Twitter that backfired horribly. Admittedly, it was a joke made in extremely poor taste, and yet, does a moment of stupidity or a poor sense of humour really make someone public enemy number one?
The case of the quote-inventing author is a little different, however, in that it doesn’t seem to be a lapse of judgement. His shaming came once a journalist started to do some digging around the supposed quotes, and found them to be fictional. The author was later given the chance to apologise at a conference, and was paid $20,000 for his appearance. Did he take this opportunity to put things right? No. His ‘apology’ was laden with excuses. At no point did I get the impression that he regretted his actions, his only regret was that he was caught. This individual is his own worst enemy, and I struggled to sympathise in that particular case.
The consequences of being publicly shamed vary across the different examples presented here. Many lost their jobs, and then struggled to find employment elsewhere. Some couldn’t leave the house for fear of being recognised. Some individuals were threatened. It’s scary, potentially life-changing stuff.
To Ronson’s credit, he doesn’t judge the people he spoke to, most of whom have refused to give any kind of interview until he asked them to speak to him for this book. He tells the facts – the event and the aftermath, and hears their side of the story. Some are more plausible than others, but he does remain neutral in all cases.
Social media has made it so much easier for us to share our thoughts, opinions and jokes with the rest of the world, however ill-conceived these may be in a minority of cases. It’s also made it much easier for us to condemn the authors of these comments. And it is easy to ‘name and shame’ from behind a keyboard.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is told with sympathy and light humour, and is an important read in today’s society where social media is so prevalent. I’ll certainly think twice before I make a comment that may be visible to all.