One Stupid Tweet

One Stupid Tweet

All it took to ruin a career and derail a life was one tweet. A stupid tweet at that. The New York Times Magazine has a story that is a cautionary tale we can all learn from and avoid life changing errors. This particular story is about a traveler named Justine Sacco who both tweeted unwisely and did so using her name. Which made it easy for social justice warriors and assorted trolls to go and ruin her life, career and cause family strife. In the story, Justine Sacco was an executive in charge of public relations lost her job, and her personal life imploded when a tweet she shared during a very long airline trip to see family went viral. She is a cautionary tale to tweeters and is an excellent example of what happens when one tweet is sent around the world. Stories like this are the reason I do not tweet. My sarcasm does not translate to that medium and I kind of like having a job. The author of this story had an interesting motive for writing:

In the early days of Twitter, I was a keen shamer. When newspaper columnists made racist or homophobic statements, I joined the pile-on. Sometimes I led it. The journalist A. A. Gill once wrote a column about shooting a baboon on safari in Tanzania: “I’m told they can be tricky to shoot. They run up trees, hang on for grim life. They die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out.” Gill did the deed because he “wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger.”

Not sure what part of journalistic ethics was violated but this is creepy.

I was among the first people to alert social media. (This was because Gill always gave my television documentaries bad reviews, so I tended to keep a vigilant eye on things he could be got for.) Within minutes, it was everywhere. Amid the hundreds of congratulatory messages I received, one stuck out: “Were you a bully at school?”

it is easy to see someone else’s faults and not be aware of your flaws.

Still, in those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.

Somehow a Tale of Two Cities by Dickens comes to mind with the Jacobins going after their own.

Eventually I started to wonder about the recipients of our shamings, the real humans who were the virtual targets of these campaigns. So for the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.

The article followed up on some high profile stories of people who did one stupid tweet or selfie. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the motives of the social justice warriors or keyboard commandos are not to change behavior but are payback for a real or imagined slight. The saddest part is that this is someone making a bad joke or mocking something in context that then is found and sent out to the rest of us to look at in shock and horror. To me there are a few takeaways: the first one is to ask myself if the picture or post would be anything, I want to show my boss or HR. The internet is forever. The Posting pictures at the beach when calling out sick is just a bad idea. Then thinking about who might read what I type outside my circle of family and friends. Sarcasm to family and friends is understandable in context. Not so much to a stranger. In addition, there are cultural differences when interpreting phrases. Lastly, for my twitter using friends one stupid tweet has long-term consequences.

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