Once the tone police arrive, we’re no longer talking about how disturbing it is that one of the top scientists in the world thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to work in labs because he might fall in love with them. Instead, we’re talking about whether it’s appropriate for women to mock his comments by posting pictures of themselves on Instagram.

Jon Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is another example of this shame spiral at work. Ronson fetishizes the shaming of his subjects, then attempts to redeem or humanize them, without really getting into the question of whether these people actually did something wrong. His book is a bestseller in part because there is nothing more seductive than reliving someone’s shame, then pulling back to shame the shamers, without ever making a judgement about the supposed misdeeds (or, indeed, actual acts of villainy) that set the cycle off in the first place.

–Annalee Newitz on the tone police.

I like to imagine the Tone Police arrive packed into little golf carts with sirens that make that “um-ah um-ah um-ah” noise preschoolers do when they’ve just heard someone say a naughty word.