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Jon Ronson’s New Book Discusses the Alarming Power of Social Media

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There’s a new book scheduled for sale on March 31, 2015 called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.It’s written by Jon Ronson, who has built an amazing career embedding himself with extremists, zealots, rock bands and psychologists, and it’s the first book of its kind to examine the real-life consequences of social media, the mob mentality and hashtag shaming.

For three years, Ronson immersed himself in what he calls “the great renaissance of public shaming,” a time when face-to-face “judgment” is a dirty word, but piling on the invective when a person commits an error on Twitter is a national pastime.

Ronson spent time with those who have been shamed, most famously, PR executive Justine Sacco, who tweeted 63 characters before her plane to Africa took off, and found herself the subject of worldwide scorn by the time the jet touched the runway.

He also talks to the shamers to understand their motivation and the impact on their lives after major social media explosions. “Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is ok or in ruins. What’s it doing to them? What’s it doing to us?” reads the book’s description.

“At its best, social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised,” reads an article by Laura Hudson in Wired magazine in 2013. “At its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction.”

As businesses, we’ve all come to rely on the power of social media to communicate with our customers and clients, but social media is the most perilous of double-edged swords. Angry customers, disgruntled employees, jilted spouses and completely disinterested bystanders can release the internet Kraken, yet as Hudson’s article in Wired notes, none of those people have any means of getting it back in the cage.

As we write this, Neil Young is engaged in a very public attempt to shame Starbucks into changing its position on labeling genetically modified organisms. “I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one,” wrote Young on his website. “Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling. Tell Starbucks to withdraw support for the lawsuit — we have a right to know what we put in our mouths.”

“Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign,” said Starbucks in a statement. Right or wrong, Young’s statements seem to be the ones with social media traction. For franchisees – both of Starbucks and its Seattle’s Best Coffee brand – it’s a national discussion happening at a very local level.

That’s where the impact hits: When real world customers decide to spend their real world dollars elsewhere, based on your reputation online. It’s critical to protect it, and get all the help you can to ensure the people who are going to engage with your business understand the truest measure of your real-world reputation.