In the United States, public punishments have been banned since 1839. But nearly two centuries later, it seems like someone’s being flogged in a virtual town square on the Internet every day.

In his new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the enormously entertaining investigative journalist Jon Ronson tries to figure out why the digital space has become so rife with moral policing--and what happens once the Twitter dust settles.

Ronson is most fascinated with people whose lives are turned upside down by one seemingly harmless mistake: The PR rep who tweeted a tasteless AIDS joke before boarding an international flight. By the time the plane landed, she was jobless and fielding death threats. The two computer programmers fired for making dirty jokes at a tech convention--never meant for the Internet, they ended up there anyway. And a woman vilified for an insensitive Facebook photo who desperately wants to clean up her Google history.
 
Ronson is best known for The Psychopath Test and for his stories on the radio show This American Life, and he uses the same kind of conversational journalism here. Part researcher and part therapist, he presents an achingly empathetic portrait of these Internet pariahs, along with a stern warning that we’re not taking lightly: Think before you type.

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