The author of works about everyday psychopathologies takes a hard look at the dark side of shaming on social media.
This American Life contributor Ronson (Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, 2012, etc.) believes that via social media, we are creating a contemporary version of Hawthorne’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, awarding scarlet letters with gleeful viciousness to people who often are more guilty of silliness and indiscretion than they are of any egregious social (or actual) felony. Ronson begins with an incident in his own life: some computer guys who adopted his name on Twitter and tweeted things that the author despised. Then he examines case studies of specific individuals, most of whom he sought out and interviewed. Among them are plagiarists and fabricators (a Bob Dylan biographer who created quotations), a woman who tweeted an insensitive racial comment, a couple of guys in an audience who said noxious things overheard by a person nearby, and a woman who posted a photograph of herself making an obscene gesture at Arlington National Cemetery. Due to the swarms on social media, virtually all of these people lost their jobs, reputations and privacy. Digging into the backgrounds of these stories, Ronson unearths relevant information about shaming in the courtroom (a principal strategy employed by lawyers on both sides), the “unshaming” process (and how it can be very effective with prison inmates), and psychological experiments that show the extent to which humans will go to shame others. He also writes about computer whizzes who, for a substantial fee, can play with your name on Google search so that your indiscretions appear in a much diminished way (several pages down, where most searchers don’t look).
Another intriguing journey from Ronson, who notes that our social media dark side grows ever darker when we believe we’re superior to others—and anonymous.