Book Review - So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

I don't think this was the point of the book, but So You've Been Publicly Shamed should be required reading for anyone with a social media account. Either to prevent you from saying something so drastically stupid that it could ruin your life, or to make you think twice about jumping on the bandwagon and kicking someone while they're down.

This is the first Ronson book I have read. I read an extract of it when it was first published and knew I wanted to read it at some point. Then I heard him on Adam Buxton's podcast, and hearing him talk so honestly about his experiences since having the book published made me go to Waterstones and buy it. Since then, I've pinched my husband's Kindle to read Them: Adventures with Extremists (also brilliant).

So You've Been Publicly Shamed explores what happens when someone - like Lindsey Stone, for instance - makes a bad joke on social media, and then finds that their life is forever altered because of it.

Ronson follows the journey that people go through when they find themselves a victim of public shaming. Whether they've been called out for plagiarizing, or had their photograph plastered all over Twitter because they made a silly joke to a friend, their stories are fascinating and intense and horrifying all at once. The damage that can be done to peoples livelihoods and reputations is immense - and many of his interviewees are still very much haunted by the mistakes that they have made.

The book delves into the roots of public shaming - the public square, where people used to watch people being flogged, punished for their crimes - and ponders whether social-media shaming is the modern-day equivalent of this. His examination of the human capacity to revel in other people's punishment is squirm-inducing to say the least.

What I really like about Ronson is his ability to really capture a person (I found this to be the case with Them, too) - all of a person, all of their nuances, the good bits, the bad bits and the funny bits. Rarely is a person in his books portrayed flatly - you really get to know the people he is with, and it makes you sympathise with them even if they have said or done terrible things, which really is a remarkable gift as a writer.

He also injects a dose of himself into his books - with his sense of humour, his dry wit, and his ability to poke fun at himself for his actions in awkward situations. So You've Been Publicly Shamed starts with his own encounter with a Twitter bot (which I found baffling, unsettling, and a bit funny at the same time), and ends with his own experience of being publicly shamed when an early edition of the book is leaked. Ronson gets public shaming, because he's been there: and he still puts himself out there by sympathising with the people Twitter loves to hate.

This book provoked two reactions in me: one was, as I said at the beginning, to kind of never want to Tweet anything ever again. But the second feeling I had was an uncomfortable probing of my own fear of this kind of thing - the fear of other people's scorn, the fear of negative reaction, the fear of people misunderstanding me - and whether by playing along with it, I am actually accepting a weird form of social control, sticking within the boundaries, never saying or doing anything that might upset the status quo.

Fascinating, sad, kind of horrifying, and hilarious at times - this is one of my favourite books so far this year. And if any of my friends are reading this post, feel free to borrow it from me!

You can find more information about Jon Ronson and his books here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Linking up with:


My Random Musings

Talk of the Town


  1. I would never have thought this was a book I would like!
    But it sounds really interesting!
    Thanks for the review. I will be adding it to my be read list!

    1. Thanks for reading! :) it is really interesting all the way through - I couldn't stop reading it x

  2. I've heard about this book, but I think I'd be too scared to read it. The fear of making one of these modern day social gaffes is all too real! #twinklytuesday

    1. To be fair, it's pretty scary at times. I did stop posting on social media for a few days afterwards! x

  3. I always have to be careful what I put out on social media Megan because of the job I'm in. I can't count the times I've gone to tweet something or update a FB status and then deleted before hitting the button. I have also signed an agreement related to social media and have to keep within the guidelines...

    You are not alone :)

    I've really enjoyed reading your review. Thank you.

    ps you're welcome to link on Talk of the Town on Saturday :D x

    1. I was thinking of Talk of the Town when I wrote it :D I definitely will! Thank you. I can imagine if you've signed a social media agreement you have to be doubly careful! x

    2. Thank you for linking :) x

  4. This sounds like a fab book, very insightful and I will be looking it up! Stuff like this makes me glad I was a teenager long before social media!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

    1. Oh yes, I'm very relieved about that. Saying that, when I was 16 MySpace was just coming out ... very happy to know my profile no longer exists on there! *shudder*

      Thanks for reading x

  5. The power of social media and the internet is sooooo frightening. This sounds an interesting read. Will have to look it up.


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