Public shaming on the Internet: Modern Day Puritan Punishment?
A Look at Jon Ronson’s book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” and Online Reputation Management
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Public shaming, in the pre-internet days, generally, used to be vetted or created by a publication, broadcast entity or writer of some sort.
Now, given anonymous review sites such as RifOffReport, or social media platforms such as Twitter, anyone can now be a critic.
In some cases this is fine.
But often, as author Jon Ronson mentions in his book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” this can be punitive and cruel to the point it changes someone’s life–usually for the worse.
Their online reputation is at stake, and having a ruined one can lead to lost business, being fired from a job, and real anguish.
Jon Ronson interestingly looks at the internet phenomenon of public shaming as a historical re-emergence form of public punishment, which figured in Colonial America, for example. Although phased out, at least in physical form in North America and Europe, public humiliation is still popular in South Asia and India.
Ronson interviewed several people who were on the receiving end of web scandals, including Jonah Lehrer, the New Yorker writer who was fired due to claimed plagiarism, Justine Sacco, who was fired for tweeting, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!,” and Lindsey Stone, who posted a photo on Facebook in 2012 that showed her jokingly posed at a war memorial, getting the ire of veterans.
While some public shaming is well deserved, some goes far beyond innocent fun. The result can be nearly sadistic and quite damaging to a person’s life and livelihood. Repairing a hurt reputation, at this point is impossible or prohibitively expensive.
As a result, Jon Ronson–as perhaps we all should be–is wary of retweeting or recirculating a shaming social media post because of the damage it can cause.
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Steven W Giovinco