So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

by

Jon Ronson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed can help.
Twitter Symbol Icon

Throughout So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the social media platform Twitter reflects the state of modern society: the world has become interconnected in unprecedented ways, but connecting with strangers has, in many ways, made people less humane. To Jon Ronson, Twitter plays a similar role to the public stocks in centuries past. Stocks were a form of public humiliation in which wrongdoers were bound in a public square and forced to endure the derision of passersby from the community. This form of punishment gradually died out as societies found it more and more inhumane to humiliate people as punishment for their misdeeds. But with the rise of Twitter, Ronson has seen public shaming come back to the fore: online mobs quickly and mercilessly descend on people for misdeeds both big and small. And while this can sometimes be helpful in securing justice—as by calling attention to police brutality—it is often excessive and misguided, as when Justine Sacco’s insensitive joke about white privilege was seen by more than a million people and led her to lose her job, endure death threats, and remain haunted by her Google search results for years to come.

To Ronson, the nature of social media itself explains the brutality and ubiquity of public shamings: users have the option of anonymity, they’re incentivized to weigh in on everything (but never with nuance because of character limits), they rarely see one another face-to-face, and users are rewarded (with likes and retweets) for sharing a popular opinion, while they can be pilloried for even a minor perceived transgression. This has created an environment in which someone can believe they’re behaving morally when they join a mob to destroy a stranger’s reputation online. To Ronson, this has torn at the social fabric and hurt the ability to have humane, nuanced discussions of complex issues.

Twitter Quotes in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed quotes below all refer to the symbol of Twitter. 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:
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
). 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 1 Quotes

I won. Within days, the academics took down @Jon_Ronson. They had been shamed into acquiescence. Their public shaming had been like the button that restores factory settings. Something was out of kilter. The community rallied. The balance was redressed.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker), Luke Robert Mason
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

It didn’t seem to be crossing any of our minds to wonder whether the person we had just shamed was okay or in ruins. I suppose that when shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be.

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:
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 14 Quotes

Social media gives a voice to voiceless people—its egalitarianism is its greatest quality. But I was struck by a report […] that had been written by a Stasi psychologist tasked with trying to understand why they were attracting so many willing informants. His conclusion: “It was an impulse to make sure your neighbor was doing the right thing.”

Related Characters: Jon Ronson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Twitter
Page Number: 271
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:
Get the entire So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed LitChart as a printable PDF.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed PDF

Twitter Symbol Timeline in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The timeline below shows where the symbol Twitter appears in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Braveheart
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
...early January of 2012, British journalist Jon Ronson noticed that someone was impersonating him on Twitter. The user’s handle was @Jon_Ronson, and they were using a picture of Ronson as their... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Wilderness
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Lehrer essentially disappeared after his shaming, abandoning his Twitter presence and ignoring interview requests. Ronson was surprised when Lehrer agreed to speak with him—and... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
...livestream. The Knight Foundation had placed a large screen behind Lehrer that displayed a live Twitter feed of users’ real-time opinions of Lehrer’s speech as they rolled in. For the first... (full context)
Chapter 4: God That Was Awesome
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
...One of these people was Justine Sacco, a PR professional with only 170 followers on Twitter. As she prepared to board a flight from London to Cape Town, she crafted a... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
...desk. Hours after her misguided tweet, Sacco had become the number one trending topic on Twitter worldwide. While she was still in the air, her tweet had spread across the internet... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Cycles of Shame, Trauma, and Violence Theme Icon
...internet’s anonymous public shamings could be. He’d watched in real time over the years as Twitter transformed from a “Garden of Eden” of ideas and jokes to a watchtower for transgressions... (full context)
Chapter 5: Man Descends Several Rungs in the Ladder of Civilization
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
To Ronson, Twitter isn’t really a crowd—it’s a group of individual voices. Some called for violence against Sacco,... (full context)
Chapter 6: Doing Something Good
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
But when Hank and his friend looked at Twitter later that afternoon, they saw that the woman sitting in front of them had taken... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Cycles of Shame, Trauma, and Violence Theme Icon
...couldn’t remember most of them. He did remember being the first person to alert the Twitterverse to a column written by A.A. Gill about shooting a baboon on safari to “get... (full context)
Chapter 7: Journey to a Shame-Free Paradise
Cycles of Shame, Trauma, and Violence Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
One of Ronson’s Twitter followers, Conner Habib—an adult performer—asked if Ronson was planning to research people who derive pleasure... (full context)
Afterword
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
Ronson’s excerpt helped begin a new conversation about Twitter-shaming; many journalists referred to the article as a turning point in the conversation about contemporary... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Cycles of Shame, Trauma, and Violence Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
Over the course of the next several months, Ronson noticed that Twitter shamings became more prevalent rather than less common. From scientists who were shamed for wearing... (full context)
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
...in the audiences of his readings. Many people felt Ronson’s book focused too much on Twitter, which they dismissed as a “toy”—but Ronson hadn’t set out to tell a story about... (full context)
Good, Evil, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Shame and Social Media Theme Icon
Cycles of Shame, Trauma, and Violence Theme Icon
Shame, Freedom of Speech, and Public Discourse Theme Icon
Shame and Gender Theme Icon
...When he checked his account hours later, he was being shamed and threatened. Ronson quit Twitter for a little while—but soon, he migrated back.  (full context)