Journalist and author Jon Ronson highlighted negative outcomes of social media during his Distinguished Lecture Series talk Tuesday at Memorial Union.
Ronson has written nine books over the last 22 years, including bestsellers “The Psychopath Test” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” He has contributed to publications such as The Guardian, GQ and The New York Times, made appearances on the podcast “This American Life” and created numerous documentary films.
The writer discussed his latest book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” The text explores the idea that the Internet, specifically Twitter, is used as a platform for public shaming and humiliation.
Ronson mentioned how unfair it was to use troubled people as forms of entertainment. He said there is a hypocrisy between journalism and online drama, as both have the capability to expose their stories in certain ways.
“Social media is like this kind of mutual approval machine,” Ronson said. “When a destabilizing factor comes into the machine we cut it out ferociously. On social media we are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing out the people on the outside.”
Ronson shared specific stories from his new novel. One tale featured a woman, Justine Sacco, who posted a seemingly racist tweet in 2013. Internet users harassed her, causing her to lose her job and clean reputation.
The story exposed Ronson’s message that the Internet can destroy people emotionally, and how dehumanizing the victim as well as oneself is why Internet attacks are easy to perform.
“Twitter has become this stage for constant artificial high dramas where everyone is either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain,” Ronson said. “We know that’s true, but that we’re grey areas. But in this day, being a grey area is seen as a weakness.”