publicly shamed ronson

Two Views on Public Shaming from Jon Ronson and Jennifer Jacquet

publicly shamed ronson

It may seem like Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Jennifer Jacquet’s Is Shame Necessary? are in a face-off with dueling viewpoints, but they actually have quite a bit in common. Both take time to explore the history of public shaming, though Jacquet’s book takes an interesting detour into the difference between guilt and shame that we don’t see in Ronson’s, and explore recent examples on various scales. While So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed takes a rather sweeping stand against public shaming, Is Shame Necessary? explores its possible uses while also warning of its dangers.

I have to admit that I went into both books expecting to prefer Jacquet’s take. While I certainly agree that public shaming can and does get out of hand, it also seems that many take thrill in quickly dismissing any type of call out as bullying. While I enjoyed the quick read of Ronson’s book and found myself conflicted by some of the situations he presented, I couldn’t help feeling like he was writing in a carefully constructed bubble. In many cases, there was little consideration for the big ideas the “shamers” were concerned with, just a focus on the fallout.

I think it’s important that marginalized voices have a place to point out wrongdoing without having the tables instantly flipped or without fear of being labeled as bullies (when so often, their whole lives revolve around being bullied). Sarah Seltzer wrote a fantastic piece on So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed for Flavorwire and concluded, “…humiliation breeds the impulse to humiliate. And many of the people who routinely humiliate others on Twitter have probably been humiliated by the world. That’s where we need to begin, not end, the discussion.” I couldn’t possibly agree more.

Though Jennifer Jacquet does take politics into consideration in Is Shame Necessary?, her book is mostly targeted at using shame to encourage large corporations to make change, with little mention of more individualized social justice I was hoping to see. While both books offer an interesting look at modern public shaming, I’m still wishing for a third perspective—one that fully considers the political issues surrounding both the people pointing fingers and those taking blame.


  • Until this post I had not heard of Jacquet’s book! I will look for it – I enjoyed Ronson’s book but it left me feeling like it’s just one of the first takes on a subject that we all need to explore and discuss a lot more. There’s so much to unpack within this topic. I think you’ve pinpointed one of the key discussions: ways we can make shame useful in a political way. There needs to be more nuance between our reactions to a young girl posting a stupid photo online and to people who are actually doing harm to others.

    • Yeah, I think it’s a great place to start, but I just hope people don’t take it as the final word…I think there’s definitely more to be said!

  • This topic is definitely not back and white – there are so many shades of grey, and so many different scenarios/situations/circumstances. It would be hard to address them all in one book. Maybe these books will spur others to write about what is missing in them.

    • I was about to leave a comment and realized I’d basically be saying exactly this. Totally agree with Naomi, there are so many variables and shades of grey. Lots of angles to consider on this topic. Thanks for covering these two books!

      • Definitely, and that’s one of the things I took away from Ronson’s book. Unfortunately, he writes from a place that ignores many shades and sees shaming as unequivocally wrong…I just wished for a little more nuance.

  • I listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Ronson about his book, and was intrigued. It’s pretty shocking and sad, the lengths to which people go putting so much hurtfulness and hate out there on others. I feel badly for the generations after mine who have to deal with social media during their adolescence.

    • I think that in many cases the lengths far outweigh the means, but there are some situations where I think “outing” someone is appropriate (for example, in the book a journalist grapples with whether or not to write about a book he discovered had multiple fabricated quotes).

      • Oh totally, I agree with you there, in a case like that. i was meaning more like I feel badly kids today have to worry about getting bullied online, just for being themselves, or making one “wrong” move, etc.

  • I’ve been wanting to read the Ronson book but hadn’t heard of Jacquet’s book so want to read that too. Sounds like an interesting contrast.

  • I agree with Seltzer’s viewpoint; I also wonder what’s behind the shaming, rather than the actual words themselves. Unfortunately, so many people (myself included, sometimes!) are hurting and they just don’t have the tools to express it; it sucks when it’s taken out on others in a non-constructive way, though. Thanks for sharing this, Shannon; great topic!

  • Jennine G.

    Interesting. Are they discussing the topic of shame as in people putting others to shame? Cause I think there are times when people should feel shame for what they said or did. I have done things in the past that I’m ashamed of and I feel I should be,

    Make sense? Is that some,thing covered or mentioned in these? Or is it totally other side of the shame topic.

    • The topic of shame as in publicly, most often via Twitter, shaming others for something they’ve said or done – sometimes really small (a joke or phrase) and sometimes much larger (a book with falsified quotes). Like you, I think there are some situations where public shaming is probably the best or only way to handle situations, but Ronson’s book takes a pretty hardlined stance against the practice.

  • I hadn’t seen that Flavorwire post, but I was glad to read it — in the interviews I’ve been reading with Jon Ronson, the conversation tends to lack much discussion of how marginalized voices can be heard online in a way that they aren’t being heard elsewhere; and of how people in [choose your class of privilege] are the recipients of way more benefit of the doubt than people in [choose your historically oppressed class]. Which I think is such a crucial part of the discussion that it’s almost not worth having without that.

    • 100% yes! I find it very frustrating. And like others have said in the comments, I do think there are definite gray areas, but Ronson is the one wanting to make it very black and white – he even mentioned in one interview that Jonah Lehrer could have murdered someone and wouldn’t have deserved the public shaming he received. Come on now. You can’t say things like that while questioning the motivations of Adria Richards in calling out a man for being sexist.

  • Both of these books sound interesting, but I’m sorry to hear neither of them did quite what you were hoping the would!

  • Interesting! I really like reading multiple books about the same topic and seeing how they connect and this seems like a great pairing.

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