What Was So Frightening about Justine Sacco’s Demise

I was there you know…when the tweet was first sent on December 20th. I saw the RT from @Reads4Pleasure’s time line:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Ah. Who was this fool who had said something so insensitive, classist and subversively racist? I clicked on her profile. She only had 228 followers or so. She was “nobody”, as far as I could tell. I dismissed her tweet as the ramblings of a silly, privileged “white girl” and then went on about my evening watching reruns of Tavis Smiley.

And then suddenly, like a bad case of scabies, #JustineSacco was all OVER my time line. For the next 18 hours, that’s all anyone was talking about. #HasJustineLandedYet was trending worldwide. This grinning, blond and obviously very self-satisfied woman had gone from having a mere 200+ followers to well over 8000 in less than 24 hours. Ah! I was puzzled. But who was this individual and why did we care so much about this silly tweet she had sent?

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the online world is an open oracle – a well of information, useless and otherwise. As we now know, Justine Sacco is/was a pretty big fish: and there is nothing humanity likes to do better than to bring the mighty low, to hunt for sport, to watch the once proud slither at our feet. Justine Sacco, the originator of the puerile e-pronouncement, was IAC’s Communications Director; the same IAC that owns, The Daily Beast and Vimeo.

That’s right. Justine was the head of communications for ALL of that money.

And in 17 hours I watched her go from obscurity, to infamy, to unemployment… and it was scary. The world wanted blood and they got it. Within minutes of the tweet, her company distanced itself from her statement, and within hours of her landing in Africa, she had been fired.

I’m not here to shed tears for Justine Sacco. Her father, whom it was reported that she had gone to Africa to visit, is a billionaire white South African. It’s fair to assume that Ms. Sacco has a very soft place to land following her fall from grace. And the real truth is that despite the fact that she has been fired from THIS position for an unseemly faux pas, it does not preclude her from getting another within the same company. That’s the brilliance of privilege: what you know will never matter more than who you know.

And for the rest of us? Well, things are a little trickier for us 99%ers.

As we have seen in 2013, there is a blood lust prevalent in our culture. The days of Roman gladiators – when men thrust spears, swords and spiked balls into bone and flesh – are long past; but that mob mentality with an insatiable need to watch something die violently still remains. So when the world piled on Justine, I didn’t feel bad for her in particular: I felt dread for the next victim…

What if that victim turns out to be someone I care about? What’s worse, what if that victim turns out to be me? I would only have myself to blame, right? Sure, Justine Sacco said something that can only be qualified as absolutely brainless, and we have all come to the consensus that as a PR executive, she should have had sense enough to make her tweets private, particularly since she basically admitted that she is prone to making stupid statements “when drunk”, but did that mean she deserved to have her life threatened and menaced with the idea of being raped? She is not the only person to lose her livelihood over something stupidly said online. The girl who dressed up as a Boston Bomber victim for Halloween comes to mind, as does the idiot who dressed up as Trayvon Martin’s corpse. Were they idiots? Absolutely. But do we need to repay their feeblemindedness with violence? I don’t believe so.

The online world has evolved rapidly in the last few years, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Who knows what advancements 2014 will bring? For my part, I will be spending more time consuming online content, rather than creating it. I have had just enough troll attacks to know that people are absolutely crazy out there, and I don’t need to feed into the insanity. I will be more watchful of the things I say in the hopes that I will not offend. My apologies in advance if I do! I beg you o!

My resolution for 2014 is not to be the next #JustineSacco. I don’t wear rape threats and unemployment very well.

Oh. And Happy New Year!