Shame and Social Engineering

Just finished reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson’s zeitgeisty book about social media pile-ons. There were many, many good points in the book, but I forgot to highlight them as I was enjoying reading it so much. One thing that has stuck in my mind, however, is an email exchange with the film-maker Adam Curtis, in which he talks about feedback loops and the social media echo chamber:

Feedback is an engineering principle, and all engineering is devoted to trying to keep the thing you are building stable.

It’s undeniably true that I now self-censor a lot more on Twitter than I did in the past, for fear of a strong negative reaction. I don’t think I’m alone in this; anecdotal evidence suggests many people are also becoming more tame to avoid the Twitter mobs. The net effect is, as Jon Ronson himself says:

We see ourselves as nonconformist, but I think all of this is creating a more conformist, conservative age. ‘Look!’ we’re saying. ‘WE’RE normal! THIS is the average!’

I recommend you read the book yourself to see all of this in much greater context. And I wonder if Twitter and Facebook shouldn’t give away a free copy to all their users.