So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

by

Jon Ronson

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Justine Sacco Character Analysis

Justine Sacco is a former PR executive who was publicly shamed after she tweeted a satirical but insensitive joke about white privilege. When Sacco tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” just before her plane took off, she thought that her relatively small group of Twitter follows would pick up on the fact that she was satirizing white Americans’ sense of privilege and isolation from the problems of developing nations. Instead, over the course of Sacco’s 11-hour flight from Europe to Cape Town, her tweet went viral—and millions of people began calling for her to lose her job and suffer consequences for what they believed was a tweet made in earnest. Sacco later lost her job, and over the course of the last ten days of December 2013, she was googled 1,220,000 times. Sacco’s name became synonymous with contemporary Twitter shamings, and many claimed that her Twitter infamy “destroyed” her life. But Jon Ronson uses Sacco’s story to illustrate the pettiness, cruelty, and misplaced intents of the internet mobs that seek to punish people like Justine who are perceived to misuse their privilege. Sacco’s story is central to the plot of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and while Ronson alleges that her tweet was ill-advised and unfunny, he defends her as a victim of the feedback loops and mob mentality that make the internet such a volatile place for contemporary users.

Justine Sacco Quotes in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed quotes below are all either spoken by Justine Sacco or refer to Justine Sacco. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed published in 2016.
Chapter 4 Quotes

A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people. What rush was overpowering us at times like this? What were we getting out of it?

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

All these people had […] come together spontaneously, without leadership. I wasn’t one of them. But I’d piled on plenty of people like Justine. I’d been beguiled by the new technology—a toddler crawling toward a gun. Just like with Dave Eshelman, it was the desire to do something good that had propelled me. Which was definitely a better thing to be propelled by than group madness. But my desire had taken a lot of scalps—I’d torn apart a lot of people I couldn’t now remember—which made me suspect that it was coming from some very weird dark well, some place I really didn't want to think about.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Dave Eshelman, Justine Sacco
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

I think she still felt ashamed, but maybe not quite so much. Instead, she said, she felt humiliated.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“Literally, overnight everything I knew and loved was gone,” Lindsey said.

And that's when she fell into a depression, became an insomniac, and barely left home for a year.

Related Characters: Lindsey Stone (speaker), Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

The criminal justice system is supposed to repair harm, but most prisoners—young, black—have been incarcerated for acts far less emotionally damaging than the injuries we noncriminals perpetrate upon one another all the time—bad husbands, bad wives, ruthless bosses, bullies, bankers.

I thought about Justine Sacco. How many of the people piling on her had been emotionally damaged by what they had read? As far as I could tell, only one person was damaged in that pile-on.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco, Lindsey Stone
Page Number: 228-229
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

[Feedback loops are] turning social media into “a giant echo chamber where what we believe is constantly reinforced by people who believe the same thing.”

We express our opinion that Justine Sacco is a monster. We are instantly congratulated for this […]. We make the on-the-spot decision to carry on believing it.

“The tech-utopians […] present this as a new kind of democracy,” [my friend wrote]. “It isn’t. It’s the opposite. It locks people off in the world they started with and prevents them from finding out anything different.”

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:
Afterword Quotes

If anyone should change their behavior, I thought, it ought to be those doing the shaming. Justine’s crime had been a badly worded joke mocking privilege. To see the catastrophe as her fault felt, to me, a little like “Don’t wear short skirts.” It felt like victim-blaming.

“The essay might be a turning-point,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. “Twitter-shaming allows people who complacently think of themselves as basically nice to indulge in the dark thrill of bullying—in a righteous cause. Perhaps Ronson’s article will cause a questioning of Twitter’s instant-Salem culture of shame.”

People were realizing […] that what happened to Justine wasn’t social justice. It was a “cathartic alternative.”

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Justine Sacco
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:
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Justine Sacco Character Timeline in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The timeline below shows where the character Justine Sacco appears in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: God That Was Awesome
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...badly worded jokes to a small number of followers. One of these people was Justine Sacco, a PR professional with only 170 followers on Twitter. As she prepared to board a... (full context)
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Weeks later, Ronson met with Sacco at a restaurant near her office—she’d been fired, and she was on her way to... (full context)
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Sacco’s name was googled over a million times in about ten days at the end of... (full context)
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...the online mob called her tweet “vile” and “repugnant,” trying to signal their aversion to Sacco’s radioactive tweet. And even though Justine apologized publicly and cut her vacation short, vitriol and... (full context)
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Ronson got in touch with Sam Biddle, a Gawker journalist who retweeted Sacco’s tweet to his 15,000 followers—he is likely the person who began the firestorm surrounding the... (full context)
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...Ronson that the internet’s attention span was short—users would move onto new fodder soon, and Sacco would be “fine.” But when Ronson relayed this to Sacco, she insisted that she wasn’t... (full context)
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When Sacco asked who else Ronson was interviewing for his book, he told her about Jonah Lehrer... (full context)
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The day after meeting with Justine Sacco, Ronson traveled to D.C. to meet with Ted Poe, a Houston judge turned representative for... (full context)
Chapter 5: Man Descends Several Rungs in the Ladder of Civilization
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Ronson concluded that the people who’d piled on Justine Sacco weren’t “infected with evil,” but rather perceived themselves as arbiters of what was good and... (full context)
Chapter 6: Doing Something Good
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...came under fire, the internet rose up to protect them. As for people like Justine Sacco, Haefer cryptically stated, “some sorts of crimes can only be handled by […] shaming. It’s... (full context)
Chapter 9: A Town Abuzz over Prostitution and a Client List
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...with his daughters was stronger than ever and he was happy. Ronson was stunned; Justine Sacco and Jonah Lehrer had been annihilated, but for some reason, Ferreira’s transgression had made those... (full context)
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...times and at the height of early public shamings, Ferreira’s sins would’ve been graver than Sacco’s or Lehrer’s, but contemporary public shamings seem to sort of ignore sex scandals involving white... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Near Drowning of Mike Daisey
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For people like Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco, though, there was no alternative narrative to fall back on. Their flaws were essentially public... (full context)
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...do so. Many thousands of people applied, and Google honored every request. When Ronson asked Sacco how she felt about the ruling, she admitted to having conflicted feelings—she felt like it... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Man Who Can Change the Google Search Results
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...light, things went south, and Gregory refused Fertik’s offer of pro-bono services. Ronson suggested Justine Sacco take Gregory’s place, but Fertik’s team didn’t want to take her case. So Ronson suggested... (full context)
Chapter 13: Raquel in a Post-Shaming World
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...and begin life anew. And Raquel had committed a far more serious offense than Justine Sacco or Lindsay Stone—yet the public still refused Sacco and Stone forgiveness for reasons Ronson could... (full context)
Chapter 15: Your Speed
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...Ronson, is controlled by companies, so Google makes money off of popular searches. During Justine Sacco’s public shaming, Ronson was able to calculate, Google likely made somewhere between $120,000 and $450,000... (full context)
Afterword
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...New York Times Magazine offered to run an excerpt from the book focusing on Justine Sacco’s story—but when Ronson reached out to Sacco again, she admitted that she regretted speaking to... (full context)
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After the excerpt came out, Sacco got in touch with Ronson to let him know she’d received many letters and emails... (full context)
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...shamings. Others, however, suggested that many people—especially women of color in less advantageous positions than Sacco—had suffered worse than she had. But Ronson picked Sacco’s story because it was mainstream; the... (full context)