"So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson should be mandatory reading material for teens.
This book scared me to death, it describes my (and probably anyone that's ever used the internet) worst nightmare.
You tweet something, post something on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, whatever, something that you think is clever or insightful or edgy.
Your comment is then misconstrued, warped and sent around the internet for every troll and angry villager to scrutinize and your life is essentially over.
Surely this can't happen, you think. Think again.
Ronson masterfully explains how the UK & the US did away with public shaming in the 19th century, yet here we are in the digital age, experiencing what he describes as "a great renaissance of public shaming."
There's the story of Justine Sacco, which I will try not to spoil too much, it's the story of an unknown woman with 172 Twitter followers. She wrote a tweet before getting on a plane, a joke that she thought was clever. She turned her phone off, got on the plane and when she landed she turned her phone on only to discover her life had been destroyed.
Ronson's writing is laid back and full of humour and wit. I've been a fan ever since I picked up a copy of "Them" from the public library I used to work at. I love reading his work because he interviews people that I want to hear from. Weirdos, conspiracy theories, psychopaths, people with ideas that the rest of society deems insane.
This book is different because as Ronson points out, he's no longer seeking out the people on the fringe, he's seeking out us. We are the ones who shame, we are the people with the pitchforks and burning torches, the ones that pile on when someone makes a mistake and publishes it on social media.
When I heard Ronson interviewed on the WTF podcast, he and Marc Maron made an astute observation: In today's society of overexposure, there's no need for a government-created Big Brother, sitting behind a row of computers, monitoring our every move. We are Big Brother, we are the Watchmen and the judge & jury.
So, why should this book be mandatory for teens? As a school librarian I am constantly trying to inform teens about their digital footprint, the idea that whatever they put online is permanent. Pre-interview, employers and schools are now trawling the net, looking for that picture of you upside-down on a sofa covered in vomit and empty beer cups, your face littered with crude drawings of genitalia.
It's an absolutely frightening prospect, how thin a line we are walking when we engage on social media.
The stories in Ronson's book are even more frightening because they're all true. Go check it out!