Paul Bryant's Reviews > So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-life

Update (I can't resist):

Let shame follow this dentist even unto the last drilling and the last filling. & when he crosses the great divide, let all the animals he shot be waiting for him



Here is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo who’s cherry-picked a few recent spasms of shaming for our delectation and schadenfreude. Like a freak show, we can gawp and shudder in delicious horror.

It felt like we were soldiers in a war on other people’s flaws

The idea is this. In the olden days public shame was part of the judicial process:

but that was abolished in 1839. And now… it’s BACK. Public shaming has been revived and is in full swing on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. People are making mistakes and they are getting EXTRA-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT doled out by ourselves, armed with only our keyboards and mices and tablets and iphones. We – us – are now the angry crowd of pitchfork peasants. We shove the miscreants in the stocks and pillories and pelt them with three month old cabbages and decaying turnips.


Here is the example – the Awful Example – of Justine Sacco. Here is what public shame and utter humiliation does. She was a New York PR employee of some hot shit American conglomerate called IAC which I never heard of. On 20 December 2013 she was off on holiday to South Africa. She used Twitter and had around 30 followers. She was at Heathrow airport waiting for the plane to Cape Town and tweeted

Cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. Back in London!

That was the level – unfunny mild insults about British people. Hmph! But then :

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

Jon Ronson says “she chuckled to herself, pressed SEND and wandered around the airport for half an hour, sporadically checking Twitter. ‘I got nothing,’ she told me. ‘No replies.’”
Then she went off on her 11 hour flight and couldn’t access Twitter. While she was in the plane her tweet exploded. Here’s how much it exploded: in October 2013 she was googled 30 times. In November 2013 she was googled 30 times. Between 20 and 31 December 2013 she was googled 1,220,000 times.

No words for that horribly disgusting, racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.

Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox news.

From IAC, her employers : This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question is currently unreachable.

Fascinated by the Justine Sacco train wreck. It’s global and apparently she’s still on the plane.

All I want for Christmas is to see Justine Sacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox

In fact her deeply tasteless comment was an attempt to spoof white ignorance. “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”

The world did not get the joke. (“I can’t fully grasp the misconception that’s happened round the world”.) She had to cut short her holiday. “People were threatening to go on strike at the hotels I was booked into if I showed up”. IAC fired her. (In this book people are getting fired for perceived-to-be offensive tweets right and left.) Jon Ronson puts his finger on the reason for the vast avalanche of insult which poured down on Justine Sacco in the last weeks of December 2013:

Dragging down Justine Sacco felt like dragging down every rich white person who’s ever gotten away with making a racist joke because they could.


So JR looks at various horror stories of this type, of lives destroyed by thoughtlessness. Here’s another example. Two women were guiding a party of disabled adults around Washington for the charity they worked at. They liked to make spoof photos, like smoking in front of No Smoking signs, juvenile stuff like that. They went to Arlington Cemetery and just took leave of their senses. One posed in front of the sign which says “Silence and Respect” – she pretended she was yelling and was giving the finger as well. What humour – it’s the opposite of silence and respect, see? I get it! So did all of Facebook when they insanely put the photo up, and the woman in the photo was fired

and spent a year afraid to leave the house.


JR examines examples of people who have been horribly shamed but were NOT destroyed. A good example in Britain is Max Mosley. He has had a fair amount of shame to bear in his life – son of Oswald Mosley, who was head of the British Union of Fascists and a supporter of Hitler. Max became head of Formula One racing and he liked to attend S&M parties. One of which was filmed and splattered over a tabloid newspaper here in the UK. There he was whipping girls and being whipped by girls:


… At one point the wrinkled 67-year-old yells “she needs more of ze punishment!” while brandishing a LEATHER STRAP over a brunette’s naked bottom. Then the lashes rain down as Mosley counts them out in German.

Within a year Max had successfully sued the paper for breach of privacy and appeared on a few general political discussion shows in the UK. It turned out that the public couldn’t care less about S&M orgies. He was unshamed.

This inspires Jon to visit Kink Studios to see if he can answer the question : is the porn industry populated by people immune to shame? Unfortunately he gets frankly rubbishy answers and does not pursue this line. But it does make me wonder – what do the models in even the anodyne disrobings on the most vanilla of porn sites think about their intimate parts captured forever by the internet’s powers of recall? Assuming they don’t stay in the porn biz for life, does this ever have any repercussions in the private or public sphere?


This book is nothing more than lightweight journalism but JR has a knack – just when you wonder what this or that person in the story had to say, what was their angle, what happened to her afterwards – he’s anticipated you and he’s emailed or skyped or twittered the person and he’s got the reply. Jon interviews James Gilligan (author of Violence: A National Epidemic – read and reviewed!) who says that if shaming people worked prison would work and no one would reoffend, but it doesn’t work. In the end, says Jon, this has been a book about people who didn’t do very much wrong and got vengeance and anger rained down on them. Vengeance and anger and shaming appears to be our default position, here on the internet. I would have liked JR to discuss more why men get shamed in a forensic manner, such as for plagiarism, and women get shamed in a personal manner which very rapidly descends into misogynistic rape & death threats (always the ol’ rape ‘n’ death threats) – he mentions this in a couple of lines then veers off.

But that’s what this book is – filled with interesting ideas and questions, and leaping from one internet zone to another with the alacrity of an Olympic gold medallist gibbon – from Twitter to 4chan to instagram and back again. He didn’t ask us on Goodreads if we had any good stories, though. If he had, we would have collectively put our hands behind our head and gazed at the ceiling and said

Well, now, there was once this retired librarian called Ginnie Jones…

183 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read So You've Been Publicly Shamed.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

March 5, 2015 – Shelved
March 5, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read-nonfiction
March 10, 2015 – Started Reading
March 10, 2015 –
page 88
30.34% "Only got this today but a) it's highly addictive and b) it's easy reading and c) it's VERY RELEVANT TO SOM GOODREADS BEHAVIOUR WE HAVE ALL OBSERVED. I will speak more about the latte in my review, if it's not paradoxical to publicly shame public shamers."
March 10, 2015 –
page 89
30.69% "I meant latter not latte. I will not be discussing types of frothy coffee in my review."
March 10, 2015 –
page 117
40.34% "good gracious, page 117 already? this book is leaping around the internet like a mountain goat huffing propane gas - twitter, gawker, 4chan, plus Gustave Le Bon and Zimbardo. Now he's on about AA Gill!"
March 11, 2015 – Shelved as: modern-life
March 11, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-29 of 29 (29 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Maru (new) - added it

Maru Kun Thanks for giving this book the thoughtful (and amusing) review it deserves. I can really see public shaming being increasingly common given social media wasting ever more of our time and attention.

But I can't understand how some people who clearly deserve public disgrace seem strangely immune to its effects, apparently carrying on as if nothing had happened. Our friends in the banking industry - Fred Goodwin or Stuart Gulliver for example - come to mind...

message 2: by Paul (last edited Mar 12, 2015 03:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant I was going to say there's a remarkable amount of blaming & shaming which goes on in the various frenzied debates about "bad authors" vs "bullying reviewers" in the Goodreads Feedback group but I chickened out. They'd all march over here and publicly shame me if I did. I could feel it.

message 3: by Cecily (last edited Mar 13, 2015 01:29AM) (new)

Cecily I read a (very) condensed version of this in The Guardian (I think) the other weekend, but I hadn't really made the connection to GR. Obvious now you mention it. :(

There was also a recent article on the BBC website (which I can't find) about a woman whose Facebook profile picture was used to create fake accounts, using a different name, but spinning an alternative life, regularly mining her real profile for more pictures - with no obvious motive.

message 4: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Paul wrote: "Vengeance and anger and shaming appears to be our default position, here on the internet."

Is this a product of the view that anything goes on the internet? Here, this is what we're really like, if we're not restrained by any social standards?

Paul Bryant yes, you can see the internet with its vengeance and its vast swilling porn content as the most honest representation of the human mind we've ever had.

message 6: by Dollee (new)

Dollee Good review Paul - thanks

Paul Bryant you're welcome

message 8: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Paul wrote: "yes, you can see the internet with its vengeance and its vast swilling porn content as the most honest representation of the human mind we've ever had."

Depressing, innit?

Paul Bryant somewhat

message 10: by Kristal (new)

Kristal Have you seen the recent TED talk with Monica Lewinsky? She talks about online bullying/shame. It's about 22 min and it's very interesting. I recommend it.

message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant thanks - I will check that out

message 12: by Jay (new)

Jay Hey, Paul: as usual you amaze and inform with your reviews. Thank you.

Back in the good old days, under English law, traitors were dealt with extremely harshly. To wit, they were hung, but not enough to kill them outright, then were cut down, were disemboweled, with their entrails strewn and/or cooked in front of them, along with their genitals, and only then were drawn and quartered. The sad torso then had its head cut off, and the executioners usually played "football" with it until there was nothing left to kick. The Puritan regicides, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne, suffered this fate, almost to a man, as did the dead and then exhumed corpse of Oliver Cromwell. It was not enough to kill someone you held in the lowest esteem and highest hatred, but you also had to bring the ultimate shame and desecration upon the miscreant for his misdeeds. Nowadays, being the enlightened race that we are, and armed with the sword of (self-)righteousness a/k/a the Internet, we just back up a cosmic dump truck full of existential shit, mockery and hypocrisy and then unload it upon the unlucky individual we have deemed to be a traitor to our personal values. Shame: it's what's for dinner.

message 13: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Jay... here's a calypso all about our favourite subject - and the record cover's pretty shameful too

and here's Randy Newman - the singer of this song is truly shameful

message 14: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy Fascinating subject. I saw this recently, which is worth a watch:

message 15: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant thanks, I will check that out tonight

message 16: by Jay (new)

Jay Paul wrote: "thanks Jay... here's a calypso all about our favourite subject - and the record cover's pretty shameful too

and here's Randy Newman - the singer of th..."

Thanks, Paul - one of Randy's finest compositions. Never heard of "Lord Melody" before, but it's a catchy number. You're right - the album cover is just salacious enough to make me want to go to confession.

message 17: by raly (new) - rated it 4 stars

raly to Hey, I just wanted to ask whether your update with Cecile the lion is making fun of the dentist or the online reaction to him? Sorry if it's a stupid question, but I didn't find it entirely obvious...

message 18: by Paul (last edited Aug 03, 2015 03:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Most of the time this game of public shaming is a very disreputable bandwagon-jumping mode of bullying but sometimes it seems very justified. With the killer of Cecil it seemed appropriate. He should be shamed and ashamed. But here's the thing - it took this clown to shoot a protected lion for this cash-for-corpses trade to be brought to light. I'm sure most people thought Big White Game Hunters was a thing from the fifties or earlier, Ernest Hemingway and so on. But it still goes on, and when these guys do it they ain't shamed or ashamed - they take exactly the same photos that some English sahib did in 1865. So Cecil put all that onto the news which I think is a good thing. Now we know what dentists like to do in their spare time, spend 30 grand to kill a big lion. So I'm not making fun of the dentist, no, because fun is the very last thing I associate with him.

Somebody said that in the interest of restorative justice he should be made to meet with Cecil's immediate family and apologise in person.

message 19: by raly (new) - rated it 4 stars

raly to Paul wrote: "Most of the time this game of public shaming is a very disreputable bandwagon-jumping mode of bullying but sometimes it seems very justified. With the killer of Cecil it seemed appropriate. He shou..."

But that's exactly the problem! I'm glad that this story made the headlines as an occasion for us all to discuss conservation and animal cruelty, but couldn't we have done all that without releasing the name, workplace, and home address of the perpetrator?

It's easy to see how destroying people's lives online is wrong for innocent cases like a stupid joke. But now I begin to cringe when people rally to join groups and sign petitions to fire / deny visas / extradite, or directly threaten anyone, even the people I don't like, even when they're guilty.

Killing animals for fun or 'sport' makes me sick, and I can't understand how it's still a practice. But once the pitchforks are out, there are no breaks, and I wonder how can we stop ourselves from going too far...

message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Yeah I do think that it's bad to be releasing the guy's home address etc, but pardon me for missing adetail here - wasn't all that available on his own social media? I do know that Mia Farrow of all people appears to have publicised the home address details but if he's a dentist his office was public.

message 21: by raly (new) - rated it 4 stars

raly to Paul wrote: "Yeah I do think that it's bad to be releasing the guy's home address etc, but pardon me for missing adetail here - wasn't all that available on his own social media? I do know that Mia Farrow of al..."

You're probably right. I just thought it adds an interesting angle when the target of public shaming has actually done something despicable. I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing.

message 22: by Laima (new) - added it

Laima Very interesting review and update, Paul. I missed the entire Ginny episode here on GR.

message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant that was back in the old days when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

Ailsa Jo. I've just read the book and what a pity I've missed all these GR episodes you mentioned in your review...→_→ However, I do think there are different kinds of online shamings and condemning Ginnie Jones is not just about taking a moral high ground, it's more about keeping the rules from being breached. Anyway, I don't want to be a rational and understanding person all the time...hah

message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant It was also the howl of anguish at being duped by the Ginnie character - we are all vulnerable to that type of deception and when we get proof we become the electronic crowd of peasants with burning staves.

message 26: by Mish (new)

Mish I recognise some of that material from a book I read Jon Ronson I think...

message 27: by Mars (new)

Mars "Assuming they don’t stay in the porn biz for life, does this ever have any repercussions in the private or public sphere?"

most porn careers are fairly short - 5-10 years at most, and the impact of them is pretty much proportionally related to how famous the actress is. i've read some interviews where being sufficiently recognizable would make you utterly unemployable, if you're a woman.

message 28: by Jay (new)

Jay So, basically, being screwed never ends.

message 29: by Cwigginton (new) - added it

Cwigginton Just read your comment and realized your lion update isn't sarcasm. It's funny how shaming becomes "appropriate" when we rationalize it as a just cause. I hope it makes you feel virtuous, since the sole purpose of your update is to signal to everyone you are, rather than the well being of any animal.

back to top