Thriller or Filler? So You've Been Publicly Shamed

By Jon Ronson

Published by Riverhead Books

"It’s a shame." "Shame on you." "The SHAME." Shame is a word that we bandy around a lot. It has become one of those words that is such a part of the everyday vernacular that it has lost its true meaning (think ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, ‘literally’).

Having read this book, I think it should be kept in the ‘restricted’ section of our neuro-library, confined to solitary in maximum security. It’s terrifying and we should use it (and do it) very sparingly ind­eed. John Ronson spends the majority of his book talking to people who have been shamed in public.

Some of them are household names for the wrong reasons – Justine Sacco, the Aids plane tweet PR girl; Max Mosley, the F1 S&M orgy guy – some of them are just outside the orbit of mainstream public consciousness, but all of them have had their 15 minutes of notoriety. The book is a quest to understand the hows and whys of public shaming, the Twitter lynch mob and the feral crowd.

Most importantly, it is a cautionary tale on the power we now all have as citizens and consumers. We can and do destroy people’s lives with one brush of the ‘send’ button on our phone. And we often do it without thinking. To use medieval terminology, we are able to not only launch millions of rotten tomatoes at the global village stocks, but make the decision on who to put in them.

If every one of Twitter’s 288 million active users read this book, the online world would be a better place. As Charlie Brooker said on his satirical Black Mirror series: "It’s not a technological problem we have, it’s a human one."

Reviewed by Adam Mack, chief strategy officer, Weber Shandwick

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