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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
[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.”
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.”