It’s A Complicated World of Public Shaming

In both Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated, there are endless discussions regarding social media and the impact it has on society. At one point in Boyd’s book she discusses bullying, and although she focuses on an examples with participants a lot younger than Ronson’s example of Justine Sacco, they both highlight some of the ways social media can seep into all parts of our world. When talking to two sisters, Abigail and Ashley, it eventually became evident that Abigail regarded her sister as a bully, recounting endless stories to Boyd. She first discusses an IM incident where Ashley and her friends would say mean things about another girl in their 4th grade class, eventually spreading to the little girl, then came parental involvement, and eventually what Ashley could and couldn’t do was all based around this one incident. Although it is pretty obvious that what Ashely was doing would never have positive effects, she didn’t intentionally mean for it to grow to the proportion it did. Even Abigail noticed, “…Ashley didn’t seem to understand that she hurt people whenever she lashed out” (129). The power of social media doesn’t stop as you get older either, as we see in Ronson’s book.

Justine Sacco made a huge mistake by making her acerbic joke about not getting AIDS in Africa because she’s white to the public on such a sensitive issue. As Ronson spoke with her, Justine obviously didn’t intend for the wrath she ignited, but in an instant (a plane ride), her entire career, social life, and life in general were flipped upside down. All day she had been making crass tweets that got little, if any, attention from her followers and the bad wording of one tweet sent the media into a frenzy. To most people, this was not a joke, it was just a privileged, white woman being oblivious to the struggles of others and reveling in their misfortune. But Justine never really received the chance to explain her intentions, her life had already changed before she even turned her phone back on. Justine had a different perspective when viewing her tweet, “to me, it was so insane a comment for an American to make I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was a literal statement” (73). Although I don’t agree this justifies her actions, I think it is a bit extreme that her entire life got derailed by us, other people spending our free time on social media. Ronson pointed out, “Justine Sacco felt like the first person I had ever interviewed who had been destroyed by us” (71). I think in both of these books we can see that as the people behind the screens, we have the power to decide the content that we upload and indulge in, but it all comes down to a choice.


Author: Sara Reuschling

I am an English major with a minor in Sociology at the University of Delaware. The aim of this account is to learn as much as possible about the ever-growing changes in the world with an open mind and connect the information to my life experiences, especially regarding technology and digital rhetoric.

2 thoughts on “It’s A Complicated World of Public Shaming”

  1. I really like your response and I definitely agree with it. Boyd and Ronson have a lot in common in their thinking. It is interesting and kind of scary to think that someone’s life got destroyed because of one mistake. Socia media is extremely powerful and Justine Sacco’s story is an example of that.


  2. I can only imagine how many other posts like this are made: the difference here is that she should maybe realize she has a lot to lose. If I am in a prominent occupational position I would certainly be careful of my posts on social media. To post something that has potential to be destructive if misinterpreted is a mistake.


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