Top positive review
Interesting, fun to read, and more than a little scary.
Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2015
I'm an easily distracted reader, and I can sometimes pick away at a book for an embarrassingly long time before finishing it, but this was one of those rare books that I really "couldn't put down", and finished in record time.
I'd been thinking about this topic quite a bit before I saw this book had been written, because there have been several examples recently of massive, scorched earth web campaigns against things that I thought was fairly innocuous. It seemed like yet another example of how quickly seemingly civilized people can turn into a vicious pack of animals, and it's frightening, even in the service of a "good" cause.
The web can be a powerful tool for justice when other avenues have failed, for example, when an individual is fighting a powerful company. On the other hand, sometimes the punishment can vastly outweigh the crime, and peoples' lives end up ruined for one tasteless joke on Twitter, or even a complete misunderstanding.
Ronson goes through numerous examples, some of which I'd heard of and some of which I hadn't. He then connects internet shaming to historical public shaming, and explores other sorts of shaming, going so far as to visit the filming of an S&M movie.
It's interesting and entertaining from beginning to end. I was particularly fascinated to learn that there are now companies who (for a very large fee) will "obscure" your internet presence, so embarrassing things won't be quite so prominent.
My heart gave it five stars because it was fun to read. My head might ding it one, because it never really comes together with a coherent theme. Much as he did in The Men Who Stare at Goats, he tells a lot of very entertaining stories, and then tries to tie it together by connecting dots that don't really connect. A lot of things - like the trip the the S&M club - are just enjoyable non-sequiturs. It seems like he's trying to overthink something that's not really that complicated - just a natural extension of human nature into the digital age.
There's no great epiphany, and it's not clear anything can be "done" about the situation. Still, the book is very entertaining, and serves as a good cautionary tale, both for our own behavior, and for our reactions to the behavior of others. Highly recommended.