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Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Be Afraid of the Virtual Angry Mob.

Public shaming has come a long way. In the past, the unlucky offender was sentenced to the stocks, where he or she would be humiliatingly locked in place for public display. Today, according to Jon Ronson’s excellent new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the Internet has taken the place of the pillory, and judgment is handed down by the masses through social media.

Ronson, the author of bestsellers like The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, explores the new public-shaming dynamic by examining several recent high profile incidents of communal punishment. But while it’s interesting to learn the exact combination of indiscretion and happenstance that led to the shamings of such now-infamous offenders as Justine Sacco (of the Africa/AIDS tweet), Jonah Lehrer (of the fabricated Bob Dylan quotes) and Lindsey Stone (of the obscene-gesture pic at Arlington National Cemetery), the book is a must-read for its honest investigation of how we arrived at this new system of social media “justice.”

Shamed is a cautionary tale that should strike fear into the heart of anyone who’s ever posted an off-color comment online. However, the book also holds a mirror up to the virtual lynch mob that condemns these errant tweeters with such self-righteous fury, in an attempt to understand what causes otherwise normal persons to become so punitive – and so very ugly.

Ronson’s investigation also leads him to a question that most overlook: What happens to a person after they’ve been publicly shamed? His assessments of the damage done to victims of a social media feeding frenzy and their efforts to recover make for the book’s most engaging moments. And Ronson – endlessly fascinated by the human condition – makes for an excellent tour guide through this terrain.

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