There are people who, of their own volition, decide to try and domesticate wild animals. Can you blame them? It is indisputable that riding to your laundry room on the back of lion to switch loads is awesome and having your wolf Fluffy grab you a beer from the fridge will undoubtedly impress your friends. This is the definition of risk/reward. Life is great until you make one seemingly small mistake and your “pet” turns on you. It’s really hard to explain to a pissed off wolverine that the cupcake you dropped on the floor wasn't for him. It’s also past the point of reasoning when your creature starts chewing on your face.
Making a social misstep on the Internet is a lot like that.
On the latest episode of the consistently interesting Reply All podcast, Alex and PJ interview Jon Ronson, the author of the new book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.
Jon explores the phenomenon of internet shaming.
This is where some transgression, real or imagined, catches the attention of the social media mob. These white knights come riding in as righteous avengers and use their sheer force of numbers to dispense a blunt, and usually highly out of proportion form of “justice”.
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has traveled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
I just used my Audible.com credit to pick up Jon’s book. This topic fascinates me. I've seen self-appointed internet detectives point the finger at the wrong guy and activists decide that Facebook is the perfect place to use crude and inhumane threats to try and further their cause.
When did owning a computer make you judge, jury, and executioner?
I always assumed that the awful comments made on the internet only existed because people could hide behind anonymous usernames. Now that Facebook comments are so prolific it seems that the lack of anonymity isn't really a barrier.
I’m looking forward to hearing Ronson’s take on this. Hopefully he includes a few ideas on how we, as an increasingly hyper sensitive digital society, can gain back a little perspective.
Until then you had better watch yourself online or you might find your Friends and Followers barring their teeth ready to pounce.
You can buy "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" Here