A Tweet Is Worth a Thousand Lashes

After reading Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, I think that the angle he takes in analyzing the use of social media to shame others quite intriguing. Obviously, this kind of online shaming happens quite frequently. That being said, what I find most interesting is the idea raised by Ronson that social media shaming is a reincarnation of the public punishment that pervaded American colonial times. Diving into American history, Ronson point out that public punishment was eventually made illegal in every US state, as it was perceived as too cruel and humiliating. However, he points out that online shaming is really no different than public punishment, perhaps with the exception of a lack of physical harm. In this way, there has almost been a renaissance in public punishment. This can be seen with writer Jonah Lehrer, who after he was caught plagiarizing material in his works, sought to apologize to the public. However, his public apology was made standing next to a big screen twitter feed where people slammed his apology and tormented him in real-time. As Ronson states, “As Jonah Lehrer stood in front of that giant-screen Twitter feed on February 12, 2013, he experienced something that had been widely considered appalling in the eighteenth century” (Ronson 56). Thus, Ronson is stating that Lehrer was in this moment a victim of the modern rebirth of public punishment through online shaming.


Moreover, an interesting note to take away from Ronson so far is the contrast between his angle of looking at social media, and how other authors like danah boyd view its use. While Ronson sees social media through the lens of a “great renaissance of public shaming”, danah looks at the use of social media on a much broader spectrum (Ronson 10). Although danah boyd does acknowledge the use of social media as a tool for bullying, she does not mention its utilization specifically for shaming, but rather for the incitement of teenage drama. “Whereas adults might have labeled many of these practices as bullying, teens saw them as drama” (boyd 137). Here, boyd points out the fact that many teens who use social media see actions that can hurt others as drama, not bullying. Moreover, boyd mentions bullying and more specifically bullying through the guise of drama, but does not discuss bullying at all through the guise of public shaming. Furthermore, boyd goes on to discuss the positive influences of social media and looks at it through a variety of paradigms. Ronson, however, sticks to the phenomenon of shaming, which can easily be labeled negative. What’s more, while boyd and Ronson are both discussing different forms of online bullying, both of the groups doing this bullying rarely see themselves as bullies. Teens see themselves as starting drama, according to boyd. Similarly, those shaming others using the internet see themselves as vigilantes and proponents of online justice.


Author: Sam W

I am a Geography major and Writing minor at the University of Delaware. My primary interests are mapping, climatology, environmental and wildlife conservation, writing, reporting, and broadcasting. Using this blog, my goal is to write and publish insightful and thought provoking posts regarding digital rhetoric.

2 thoughts on “A Tweet Is Worth a Thousand Lashes”

  1. Sam, the last few sentences of your post really stuck out to me. I did not think too much in depth about what the people that shame and bully think they are positively producing through their actions, since it all seems so negative. Somehow, those that shame see themselves as having some type of duty to voice their opinions on the matter to let the person being shamed know of the wrong they have done, even if that means fighting fire with fire. Teens just see themselves as starting harmless drama for entertainment, not as bullies. This realization brings an interesting perspective to the discussion.


  2. Sam-I thought the connection Ronson made to public shaming in colonial times was interesting too. I always say I think it’s important to learn our history because humans are creatures of habit. Even though the colonial times was so long ago, we still are driven by the same things and have the same basic needs. That being said, it would be hard to measure, outlaw, and police online shaming.


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