The big thing on the internet and social media over the last few days was the story of Justine Sacco, a public relations director who posted a tweet that got her into a little bit of hot water. Okay, a lot of hot water. She was getting on a flight from London to South Africa, and she tweeted the following:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
The tweet caught the attention of, well, everyone, and Sacco was bombarded with angry responses. Unfortunately for the virtual lynch mob, Sacco was on a plane and couldn’t see the tweets. This fact spawned the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet, which is how I caught wind of the whole thing.
Needless to say, Sacco was fired by her employers. Whether her account has that infamous “these are my thoughts, not those of So-and-So, Inc.” disclaimer or not, there is almost certainly language in her contract that allows her to be terminated for making the company look stupid. And any company with someone on the payroll who says something like that publicly looks pretty stupid.
At its core, I don’t have a problem with her losing her job; she said something horrifically offensive and her employers didn’t like it. My issue is with the aforementioned virtual lynch mob; as bad as racism is, I think mob rule is pretty awful, too.
(This is where I might venture into “Unpopular Opinion” territory.)
Why is it that everyone with a Twitter or Facebook account is suddenly a judge, jury, and executioner? Who are we to impose our moral code in the most impersonal manner possible on people we don’t even know? As terrible as her comment may have been, isn’t it also a bad sign that a collection of random people – however right they might be – can get someone fired, humiliated, and possibly eternally ruined simply because they made a mistake?
Bullying is a topic du jour, especially with the anonymity and distance that the internet and social media can provide…well, isn’t this kind of like bullying? Aren’t these people ganging up on someone for their own enjoyment? Don’t tell me it’s to effect change in the world; AIDS and racism aren’t going to disappear just because one woman got fired, and if you honestly believe they might, shut off your computer or your phone and spend a couple days in the real world.
No, the folks that created this firestorm did it to punish someone whose actions they disagreed with. Except, as far as I can tell, no crime was committed, and the Twitter Police aren’t an actual law enforcement agency. This was vigilante justice, plain and simple. I thought we’re supposed to be better than that.
Surely Sacco will pawn her comment off as a very poor joke, or maybe some sort of social commentary. And maybe it actually was; she wasn’t able to defend or explain herself at 30,000 feet in the air, and by the time #JustineLanded, it was too late for it to make a difference.
And that’s my problem with the mob mentality. Let those among us who have never said anything they regret to pick up the first stones, and let those who never had a chance to defend or redeem themselves be the first to throw them.
But then people like Justine Sacco would be able to get a second chance and wouldn’t have one public mistake dictate the course of the rest of their lives.
And that’s no fun, now is it?