How Not to Be a Jerk on the Internet
Joel Stein on the book that will keep readers from ripping apart that Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion.
I'm sure, being a book reader, that you're a thoughtful, nice, probably even mindful, person. But when you're online, you're a total dick. I know when you're typing away on social media or adding to the comments section you feel like a righteous person, defending the environment, or animal rights or veterans. But, actually—total dick.
Which is why you need to read Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Normally, I prefer reading about how other people are bad. A good Pol Pot biography, maybe, or some morally compromised Jonathan Franzen characters. But Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed is about how I'm bad, which, it turns out, is much more interesting, since it's about me.
It taught me—and hopefully will teach you—how to stop being a jerk by continuing a tradition of jerkishness Ronson traces back to the Colonial-era jerks who put people in stockades, like jerks. Ronson provides a correction to the virtual mob rule that is ruining many non-virtual lives today. For instance, I have no doubt that anyone who reads this book would hold off from going online to rip apart that Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion. I, for instance, am restraining from doing so right here.
Ronson visits with lots of people whose lives were ruined when they became social media's Villain Of The Week, including Justine Sacco, the publicist I've felt a lingering guilt about ever since I was too afraid to write a column defending the harmless AIDS joke she tweeted that ended her career and, I learned, her dating life.
He's somehow able to make us feel awful while still entertaining us. Ronson is a funny, self-effacing, neurotically self-aware, overly trustworthy narrator who spends just slightly more time investigating the emotional wreckage of his subjects than he does investigating the emotional wreckage he experiences thinking about his subjects. He begins the book with stories where he shamed others with liberal righteousness, and follows them with his own fury at being the victim of a social media attack. The two great things we learn about in this book are: what it's like to live in an age of online mob rule; and, what it's like to be Jon Ronson. And they're nearly equally interesting.
As a person who has written cruel things about people in my columns and had cruel things written about me online, the latter of which I remember far better, I was furious at myself for not writing this book before Ronson did. But I also know he did a far better job than I would have. And, as much as my jealousy is fueling me to do so, I'm not going to write about how much more pleasurable it is to read this in print than to listen to his nasally voice on audiobook. It's really hard to stop this shaming thing.