The Unethical Destruction of Justine Sacco

Justine Sacco, victim.

Justine Sacco, victim.

Media executive Justine Sacco tweeted an impulsive, racially provocative joke on the social media site Twitter that a lot of people found offensive, didn’t like, or felt they could justify participating in cyber-bullying as if they found it offensive. As a result, she has lost her job, is being portrayed as a virulent racist across the web,  receiving threats and hate messages from strangers, and has become an international pariah.

It doesn’t matter what the tweet said. It was a tweet–140 characters directed at nobody in particular, that harmed nobody in any way, unlike, say, the tweets by various celebrities trying to direct mobs to where George Zimmerman could be found and beaten. Nobody attacking her knows this woman, what’s in her mind and heart, what she has done in her life or the good works and deeds she may be responsible for. And yet thousands of strangers, many of whom are almost certainly, on balance, less admirable people than Justine Sacco in many ways, have chosen to use her 140 ill-chosen characters as provocation to throw a huge, greasy monkey wrench into the gears of her life.

Their conduct—I would say every one of them who piled on after the first couple of indignant Twitter users to register an objection—is far, far worse than anything Justine Sacco has done that we are aware of. Their conduct is cruel. It is unnecessary. It is excessive. It violates the principle of the Golden Rule, because I doubt that there is a single one of Justine’s  tormentors who hasn’t written, or uttered, or laughed at, at least as politically incorrect a sentiment as what she tweeted, or worse, and probably many times. This mob mentality on the internet, with anonymous, flawed human beings swarming like Furies around someone exactly like them, because it gives them a  feeling of virtue and power…What a rush to be able to destroy another human being from afar!… is toxic, dangerous, and getting worse by the day.

I write here often about the importance of cultural enforcement of ethical values, how we each are responsible for thinking hard about right and wrong and joining in the shared societal duty of enforcing those standards that will ensure the best, happiest and most productive lives for as many people as possible. That process, however—and I have been guilty of not emphasizing this enough—requires the responsible application of the ethical virtue of proportion. We do not make society better by turning it into a fearful place where a single misstep brings abuse and shame down upon our heads from the entire community. “Nobody’s perfect” is listed in the site’s rationalization list, because people use it defensively  to pretend that wrongdoing isn’t wrongdoing at all, since to err is human. But “Nobody’s perfect” is also true, and all know it. This knowledge, I would think, would naturally temper a reasonable individual’s response to something as trivial as an insensitive tweet. The ethical sequence, in such situations, is..

  • Action
  • Recognition
  • Criticism
  • Acceptance
  • Apology
  • Contrition
  • Forgiveness

That is not, however, the sequence that the social media is becoming addicted to. That sequence is..

  • Action
  • Recognition
  • Criticism
  • Hate
  • Threats
  • Isolation
  • Personal destruction
  • Glee

No society can exist with roving mobs of vigilantes looking for opportunities to display their power and reduce their targets to pleading, ruined, submissive, pitiful pariahs. That, however, is what the social media is becoming. Such a place is not fun, not friendly and not safe. It isn’t beneficial to society, but harmful to it. Justine Sacco was not the offender here, but the victim. If this is how Twitter is evolving, then Twitter should be abandoned by sane and decent people, and left to the Furies, the mobs, the vigilantes, the haters and the destroyers to fight among themselves, like scorpions in a bottle.

I’m sorry for what happened to you, Justine. It was out of all proportion, and you didn’t deserve it.


Pointer: The Blaze

Facts: CNN



141 thoughts on “The Unethical Destruction of Justine Sacco

  1. This article wreaks of white privilege and empathy for a racist, (and yes, impulsive) white woman making fun of the plight of millions of Africans. This article is terrible.

  2. This post is hypocritical. You say in one sentence that her “tormentors” ignore her good deeds, and in the next you say that she is inherently a better person than them? How do you know her bullies aren’t better people than her? Considering what she tweeted, I’d bet they are.

    When you sign up for social media, you know what you’re getting into. Chances are her employers follow her on Twitter. She has to watch what she says, period. And since her employers have the right to preserve whatever image they want, their firing of her is 100% justified. This case is very similar to the A&E/Phil Robertson debacle.

    She said something stupid, and she paid for it. End of story.

    • Non-sequitur. Show me the rule that says employees of big companies have strict liability for jokes they tweet to friends that aren’t appreciated by strangers. And what would be the utility of such a rule? Nobody was harmed, and nobody could have been harmed, and no, “being offended” isn’t harm.

        • Martin Bashir is a professional and a journalist, and violated basic standards of broadcast journalism, and civility, on behalf of his network. Let’s see…you don’t understand the difference between a twitter user and a network news show host, you don’t understand the difference between a joke and hateful and unprofessional speech, you don’t get the distinction between workplace conduct and private conduct, and you don’t know the meaning of “hypocrite.” What else, I wonder? The mind boggles aty the possibilities.

          • I understand that OK Cupid would probably be super pissed off about the pic of their PUBLIC RELATIONS RESPRESENTATIVE you’ve chosen to put up. lol

          • Jack, please explain how making an cruel “quip” on twitter about a deadly disease which affects tens of millions of human beings in Africa is funny and not hateful.

            Also, Sacco worked in PR! She should have known better.

            • 1. Making an unfunny joke is not a major transgression.
              2. Any topic can sustain a joke.
              3. She in no way denigrated the victims of AIDS.
              4. Yeah, she screwed up.
              5. The treatment of Justine is hateful. The tweet was just stupid.

                • That’s you. There were decent 9-11 jokes. There were black plague jokes, and a whole genre of death jokes. Tiny Tim recorded a novelty Vhristmas song called “Santa’s bring AIDS for Christmas.” Jokes and satire require a wide, wide cultural berth. Pure slurs and hateful names and terminology is something else entirely. When Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a cunt, that’s not a joke. That’s a comic using his status to get away with misogyny.

              • There are indeed, many ways to read that tweet…not that those who get their kicks by cyber-lynchings are concerned with logic or fairness. Actually, the way you read it, it,s a clever and benign tweet, and anti-racist. Good job!

                • Jack, are you willing to reconsider “lynching” as a metaphor? There’s an analogy in the mob mindset and the refusal to stop and think, but you risk blurring the distinction between having to look for a new job and strangling to death at the end of a rope.

                  • No. The job is the least of it. The international smearing of the woman and linking her name permanently to beliefs and crimes she has not endorsed is mob violence, and strangling is a fine metaphor for what is being done to her reputation and prospects for future success.

              • Justines tragedy is that her joke was too good, too clever. It punctures prejudice about Africa, false anxiety about visiting Africa, false reassurance of safety in Africa and racism (prejudice, discrimination and bias). All in 140 characters or less. It deserved a better audience. The only people who should be offended are rich white westerners – they are the real target of the joke.

              • Her joke (shitty though it was) actually highlighted the difference in treatment that whites and blacks get if they contract HIV in Africa
                Instead of burning the witch, anyone who truly cared about the AIDS crisis in Black Africa would be using this spotlight to raise awareness.
                This is totally preventable and many lives could be saved.
                But you see, it is not about AIDS or Black Africans.
                It is about hate and control.

          • He also called for violence against a person whose only crime was disagreeing with him.

            This woman just said something stupid.

            As a result, many people called for her to be raped.

            And they somehow didn’t get the irony.

      • ” ‘…being offended’ isn’t harm.”

        Jack, that’s one of the most encouraging statements of yours I have read in the past few days. (Even if you’re offended for my saying so.)

  3. Jack, I just recently tried to post something on Huffington Post and found to my surprise that I could not unless I shared my full name and Facebook profile with, presumably, every one posting on HuffPo. In short, I had to be WILLING to subject myself to this kind of bullshit if I wanted to disagree with the HuffPo article. Interesting, no?

  4. I happen to agree with your opening statement that social media users will justify their cyber-bullying with the claim they are defending the victim, in this case Africans. Two wrongs do not make a right, and it should not be a social media users position to police the forums or act as a cyber vigilante. With that said, I do not think there is much room for defending Sacco’s actions, ignorance and her verbal brutalities.

    What Justine Sacco’s tweeted was highly offensive. Her tweet implied those living in the continent of Africa are an inferior race as opposed to those of a caucasian ancestry. Most offensive of all, her tweet reeked of ignorance and neglect in regards to a deadly epidemic, which has infected over 60 million people and killed over 30 million since its discovery. Sacco’s tweet history showed an insensitive attitude to other taboo topics as well. It seemed she had a sinister personality and no concern for any consequences, despite her job position.

    Here are a few statistics regarding HIV/AID’s in Africa. Possibly the author of this entry will take a good hard look and then ask himself, how can one defend a person who can make light of these tragic statistics:

    – Because of HIV/AIDs, the average life-expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is 54.4 years of age. In some countries in Africa, it’s below 49.

    – Due to an insufficient supply of antiretroviral drugs and health care providers in 2010, only 5 of the 10 million HIV-positive patients in Africa were able to receive treatment.

    – 71 percent of the HIV/AIDS-related deaths in 2011 were people living in Africa.

    – 91 percent of the world’s HIV-positive children live in Africa.


    Hopefully, now that Sacco rightfully lost her job, all cyber-bullying directed towards her will cease and she can reflect upon her actions.

    • Ridiculous. It’s 140 characters! It couldn’t do all the horrible things you’re attributing to it if she intended it to, and she obviously didn’t. In a civilized society we give each other the benefit of the doubt. This a classic example of presuming malice when stupidity is the more likely explanation, by far.

      • By what mechanism does the length of the quote affect the ethical conclusion?

        140 characters is plenty to do serious damage. It’s longer than “Captain was sober on duty today”, for example.

        Giving the benefit of the doubt is a vital principle, but if you’re finding doubt in this case you are my superior in generosity of spirit. I can’t imagine someone free of malice thinking it would be funny to tweet what she did. Though I agree it could have been more blatant.

        Presuming stupidity instead of malice is a good heuristic. In this case, the amount of stupidity required to explain her action would itself be grounds for firing her.

        • Again, there was no damage or harm whatsoever. The statement was not directed at anyone. Yes, you can do a lot of damage in 140 characters, but you have to work at it. You cannot convey complex thoughts and ideologies,at least without risk of misunderstanding. Racial superiority? It’s not there. AMS’s theory that the tweet criticizes the disparate and discriminatory treatment of AIDS in whites and blacks is more supported by the text.

          It was a tweet, Fred. So it was unfunny and misguided, so what? What is says is that she is capable of a thoughtless tweet. So are we all. The horror. Christ.

            • Like graffiti is a public statement. It’s quasi public. People choose audiences and vice-versa. It’s fair to say that all instanaces of controversial tweets resulted from the Tweeter forgetting that any communication can go far beyond followers. I guarantee that she did not intend for the world to read her casual comment, composed carelessly.

    • Let us discuss the reasons why AIDS is running rampant in the Black African community.
      Let’s discuss why so many Black African children are contracting AIDS.
      And then let’s discuss the amount of money that has been spent by private and public charities.
      Let’s get right down to the heart of the matter, rather than throwing little cyber bombs at people who say words we don’t like.

      The falsehoods in your post are causing me to be greatly offended.
      Should you lose your job now?

  5. Jack’s favorite question, “What’s going on here?”, has several answers in this case.

    One thing going on is a large number of counter-Tweets far worse than the first one. Another way to say “disproportion” is “excessive force”. Here our host’s criticism is on the most solid ground.

    Another thing going on is an employee, off the clock, making it look like her employer hires fools. That tweet was as guaranteed to give offense widely as making an obscene gesture at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

    Another thing going on is a PR employee proving a lack of skill and judgment which, if her employer had known about it in advance, would have led them to hire someone else. Someone who can’t control herself when publishing an opinion is ipso facto unqualified for Ms. Sacco’s former job. It is ethical to fire someone who can’t meet the requirements of the position. Her dismissal was the most justifiable action in the entire mess.

  6. Even though I found her tweet to be un-amusing and insensitive, I defend her First Amendment right to say whatever she wants. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A reaction to her comment was inevitable…Whether it be in agreement, outrage, or what have you. Her comment could have been taken out of context (I don’t see how though) and blown out of proportion, but being in the public relations field, she should have known better. And that is the very reason why she was fired. It’s simply bad P.R. I don’t find anything unethical about her being fired. And as far as her “tormentors” are concerned…Anyone who takes a good hard look at the world we live in should know that there are many humans out there who are absolutely crazy. You never who what is lurking around the other side of the screen when it comes to the internet. More and more we are hearing news stories about incidents related to the internet. People are fighting, stabbing, shooting, and killing each other over comments, “likes” or lack there of on Facebook! There are far too many crazy people on this earth…And for that reason alone, she should have thought twice about her now infamous 64 character twitter post.

    • Candace, nothing in the post criticized the firing—once she became a national villain, it had little choice. But the argument that she’s at fault because she didn’t take enough precautions not to run afoul of crazy, vicious people—that’s the epitome of the blame the victim argument, and I reject it, as should you. “It’s her fault for waling down that street—there are muggers everywhere.” Yup, she trusted people to be fair, rational, and kind. The fool.

    • I’m shocked that anyone in PR would use Twitter for anything other than professional purposes. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment on her part. Most companies have strict social media use policies – and being in PR, she knows better than most people re proper usage. I haven’t read her tweet, but she deserves to be fired on this basis alone — the negative comments (which I also won’t read) are just affirmation on why companies have these policies in the first place — it can hurt business.

  7. For any newcomers attempting to paint Jack as an anti-black right wing radical (I’ve seen too many idiots on both sides of the spectrum to not expect this), you guys should note that he also defended Ayo Kimathi (the black federal employee who ran a website that was both anti-white and anti-gay and called Obama “a treasonous mulatto scum dweller”). My own stance is that unless you’re trying to get politicians, businesses, and the like to change their actual policies, continuously hounding people, particularly just for saying something stupid (a handful of individual responses were more than enough to drive the point home), is at best a waste of energy. Are actual Africans at all helped by this crap (especially since the focus is primarily on her words, not their real plight)?

    • “Are actual Africans at all helped by this crap”

      A key question, with an obvious answer.

      Without investigating I can’t be certain but from my experience elsewhere I would bet my lunch money that the complaints are coming from white people into self-righteousness rather than justice.

  8. Justine’s account was not private, her ‘misstep’ had forethought. She did not make the comment in a text, email, room of close friends or on a private social media platform, but to the entire world. Every adult with a public Twitter account knows the steps in your second list as the reality we live, ignorance is no excuse given her profession. She exercised her first amendment right and so have the individuals that read her comments. Being an innocent victim of AIDS is unfair, making light of it is cruel but she took it one step further and implied the superiority of her race in relation to the disease… ignorant.

    The advent of social media has prompted companies to have their employees sign social media agreements for this very reason. It effects the bottom line. Think twice before hitting the send button, its only Twitter.

    • Again, a pure blame the victim rationalization. And as we have explored here, there are many possible ways to interpret the joke, and racial superiority is the most far-fetched…in fact, there’s no racial superiority rhetoric or meaning at all. But sure, she should be destroyed because she willingly entered a den of assholes who will ruin lives on suppositions, extrapolations and outright malicious misreadings as recreation. This Her fault. Got it.
      And wrong as wrong can be.

      • There are no extrapolations or misreadings of the less than 140 character statements made, its basic comprehension. Why don’t you rationalize the decision her company made and address the social media agreements we all sign? I hear she worked in PR. I make jokes that can possibly be misunderstood among close friends and family not the entire world because of the rational thought processes I have before speaking, unless inebriated. She had the presence of mind to tweet coherently. She is clearly unqualified for PR because the social media platform that is Twitter and her employers says so.

        Congrats, your blog is making a small buzz 🙂

        • I don’t give a damn about “buzz.” I agree that a PR exec should be more careful. I highly doubt one tweet would get anyone fired without a hoard of hate-Furies demanding it and making her a liability. The bad tweet would normally and properlybe handled with a warning, maybe a suspension. But thanks to the twitter lynch mob, she’s unemployable.

        • I should have read ahead — I just posted something similar. Jack — you’re analyzing this wrong. It’s not that she made an arguably offensive joke, it’s that she made any type of joke in the first place. In certain jobs (PR, business development, etc.), people cannot use Twitter or Facebook at all or they understand that they will be strictly monitored. I am under the same rule, and if I have a burning desire to use social media publicly, then I need to find a new job.

          • But this wasn’t a case of her boss seeing the tweet and taking her to the woodshed. This is a case of the howling, discordant mob attacking her and her employer because they didn’t like what she said.

            • But that is the SOLE reason that these policies exist in the first place AM. If the angry mob forms, then you will get fired even if your boss agrees with your position. She has the same choice that I do — avoid Twitter completely or use it knowing that you will be terminated if there is even a glimpse of pitchforks or torches on the horizon.

            • Jack — you are just very wrong on this one. Much like your rule for teachers, “Thou must not post naked pictures on the internet,” this is the rule for PR personnel, business development reps, high level executives, etc.: “Thou must not use social media for ANY purpose other than work — UNLESS you are doing so anonymously and your comments cannot be traced back to the company. If you choose to use social media anyway under your name, we will fire you if your comments have any perceived or actual negative effect on the company.”

              It’s not a company’s place to defend its workers rights to speech and explain to the drooling mob if comments were appropriate and apologize when they are not. Companies are in the business of making money. A PR person making any comment on social, religious, or political issue is grounds for termination and goes way beyond “a professional miscue.” Moreover, a PR person is trained to know that — it’s the very description of her job.

              Your analysis would be applicable if the offense was made by a secretary, a guy in the mail room, etc. I assure you though, even those employees are receiving social media training at least once a year. But I would submit that if one of these employees committed the offense then it would be wrong for an employer to fire them for what in their case would be a “professional miscue.”

              • I guess you didn’t read the post, which is only incidentally about the company firing her.

                It had to—I didn’t deny that—once she became an international pariah. The post itself, without the cyber-bullying? I doubt it, and I’ve worked on this HR issues too. Tell me, what do you think the tweet meant? If my “analysis would be applicable if the offense was made by a secretary, a guy in the mail room, etc.” then its valid here, because I’m writing about a tweet, a humen being and a mob—her position, company and employment policies are irrelevant to the topic. Whether or not she could be fired and her mistake justified it, the vicious web attacks and hateful characterizations of her are despicable and can’t be excused. Heck, if the HR director treated her like that, HE’D have to be fired for unprofessional behavior. This about the web, proportion and the Golden Rule, not the proper decorum of PR execs.

                I would also argue that no company should try to control an individual’s social interactions unless its a matter of national security. That’s unethical.

                • I did read your post Jack. But where you erred was in looking at the cyber-bullying or looking at what the tweet meant. I did go back and read it last night, and my first thought was: “A PR person wrote this tweet? Did she get a degree or just stumble into this job?” I also can see that there easily can be a more benign interpretation, but to reach that would involve doing research on her politics, background, previous tweets, etc. And that’s not even the end of the story, because maybe she has Baldwin-esque moments of pure insanity or hatred. I don’t know.

                  But, most companies would have fired her even if one client complained about the tweet. I’ve seen it happen with colleagues/former colleagues that made an off-color (or perceived off-color) joke with clients about religion and homosexuality. And in my experience, the companies didn’t fire these people because one client was offended, they fired them because they didn’t have the common sense to not make jokes on these topics in the first place.

                  As for the people who did the cyber-bullying here — yes, people are mean and stupid, but you didn’t need the reaction to this tweet to prove that. Look at any article from a major newspaper and jump to the comments section. Anonymous people love the hurl insults, pass judgment, and make threats — because most people who have the time to be doing this are mean and stupid. There also appears to be a number of people calling for her not to be judged by one comment.

                  Your last comment is just wrong — companies have to control their employees social interactions now that we live in a time where one off-color comment can reach millions of people within an hour. It’s not unethical for a company to want to continue making money and providing salaries for the workers of that companies and income to investors. That’s how all businesses operate and have to operate. It arguably would be unethical for a company to defend a single employee’s off color tweet if it meant financial ruin for the company — and all of the other employees who work for that company. The Golden Rule and proportion have no bearing in the internet world — which is why all my colleagues do little more than put up pictures of our children and make silly observations about movies and daily life in our Facebook accounts. None of us use social media in any other way unless we do so anonymously.

                  For certain types of employees, social media is on the “Thou Shalt Not” list. This PR person obviously didn’t get the memo — which is really strange since this memo usually comes from Legal, HR, and PR.

                  • But the post was not about “PR people,” and the internet’s reaction was not based on who she was, but what she wrote, and what she wrote was not even clearly objectionable!
                    “As for the people who did the cyber-bullying here — yes, people are mean and stupid, but you didn’t need the reaction to this tweet to prove that. Look at any article from a major newspaper and jump to the comments section. Anonymous people love the hurl insults, pass judgment, and make threats — because most people who have the time to be doing this are mean and stupid. There also appears to be a number of people calling for her not to be judged by one comment.”

                    …is an “everybody does it” excuse followed be a “but not EVERYBODY” excuse.

                    A company that would fire any manager if just one client complained regardless of whether the complaint had any validity is an unethical and craven employer that allows bullies to control the lives of its employees, and to hell with them. You are seriously defending that practice? I’ll double down on an objection I didn’t make.

                    “I also can see that there easily can be a more benign interpretation, but to reach that would involve doing research on her politics, background, previous tweets, etc.”

                    WHAT? Words have meaning. This was probably a tweet mocking white privilege. Arguably, you would have to know she was a racist to have any OTHER interpretation. So you are ares saying that she deserved to have her life ruined because she was a PR exec, so even though if people knew she was smart enough to mean the non-objectionable interpretation of her tweet, they should have treated her as if the tweet meant the worst thing possible, which no one like her would be stupid enough to write.

                    And as for using social media—it’s like anything else—it needs to be used carefully and responsibly. A PR exec who beats his kids and gets arrested will reflect badly on the company too—should the company forbid employees to have kids?

                    • No, I am not saying she deserves to have her life ruined — she deserves to lose this job and never to work in a PR capacity again. Nowhere did I make excuses, I only pointed out that “everybody does it” is the reason that companies urge their employees not to use social media — because posts go viral and can negatively effect companies’ ability to do business. What if the company defends what she did here and loses every single client because of it? So, the company has now defended the rights of one incompetent employee but now has to fire ALL of its employees (including the incompetent one of course) because of lost clients and revenue? No company wants to fire an otherwise competent employee Jack.

                      My original point — which I stand by — and happens to be the policy of every Fortune 500 company is: “Use Social Media at Your Own Risk.” Her PR title only is relevant because it is her job to use social media responsibly and be the face of her company and clients, so even if her post is mocking white privilege (and I tend to agree that it is), she didn’t use it responsibly. Mocking white privilege in a tweet also is stupid if you are a PR employee. Incompetence = termination. Look, for example, while I am sure that many people know and love AM, there is a reason that he posts under his pseudonym — his style is out there and could enrage people. That could have negative employment consequences now or in the future. AM is not an idiot — but this woman is.

                      Your last comment is illogical, but you know that.

  9. David Faraci just tweeted this:

    “At the end of the day, what’s worth your time: fighting an AIDS joke or fighting AIDS?”

    I think that says it all right there.

  10. ‘Justine was not the offender here’

    Sorry, but she was. The glee some people on twitter showed as this all unfolded was awful and I agree that it is something that can be discussed separately as a cultural phenomenon but it is not ethical to discuss this situation without discussing her personal responsibilities.

    She is a PR professional an works for companies with a very high profile. One can assume she has been educated on the use of social media – it’s part of her job. So she completely understands the ramifications of making a public statement that is racist. She did it anyway. Which means she must, somewhere in herself, feel that racism is okay *or* that it is at least not a serious matter. But it is and being racist is an unethical and amoral thing to be. I find it worrying that you are not addressing this in this piece.

    • 1. The tweet was not racist.
      2. Jokes, good or bad, do not denote, necessarily, actual, factual, sincere views. That’s what makes them jokes.
      3. Neither you nor anyone else knows if she is racist or not, based on one facetious tweet.
      4. Thinking racist thoughts is not unethical. Behaving in a racist manner is unethical. Ther is no evidence she has engaged in either.
      5. Hurting people is unethical. The tweet hurt no one. Your cyber-lynch mob has.
      6.People have a right to their private life. As I just wrote, she was foolish to write the tweet, but it was not in her personal capacity, and absent the exposure of the web-Furies, her company would never have been affected by the tweet at all.
      7. The tweet itself was trivial and not worth writing about. I wrote about the real offense of vicious cyber-bullying, and in this she was NOT the offender.

      • It’s pretty telling you think the tweet was trivial and that you are rushing to protect a rich white lady from the anger of all those awful brown people. The fact you write about ethics astounds me.

        • OK, you ignorant whore, I’m going to ignore the whole “Only the messiah denies his divinity. / OK, then I am the messiah. / HE ADMITS IT!” logic loop of yours, and instead focus on the fact that you are presuming to take offense on behalf of a people that you a) are not a member of and b) would never dare go near.

          You are manufacturing outrage you have no actual claim to, because it makes you feel superior.

          You are the most useless sort of person, and I really have to repeat my request that you light not only yourself but your entire family on fire, if only to try and backstop the spread of whatever defective fucking genetic mutation you carry.

        • Race-baiting motherfucker, when did he bring the ethnicity of the complainers into this? Hell, I’m under the impression that most of them are white, if by sheer statistical force alone (with them being the majority population and all). Also, if he’s like me, he just found the tweet mostly incomprehensible; speaking as someone who’s read stuff by actual hardcore racists, even those assholes usually have a little more logic between points A and B.

        • Wow. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, and this what I get. You run to the dubious safe-harbor of race-baiting when your lame argument can’t get traction? Sad and pathetic, but, I fear, typical of the weak-minded hate-mongers engaged in this search and destroy mission. ALL tweets are trivial, unless they come from messiahs, cult leaders, leaders of nations, religions, major corporations, or opinion makers. What if a black woman sent the same tweet? Why do you assume only brown twitter-users can be this vicious and relentless in their cruelty? That you found your way to Ethics Alarms from Nickelodeon astounds me.

      • It’s absurd that you are using the term ‘cyber-bullying’ to defend her. She is the bully, given her professional status, perception of Africa and the social imbalance afforded to her in this country. I find you ignorant to the REALITY that is Twitter. It doesn’t matter what the ethical sequence should be, deal with what is or its possibilities before making a PUBLIC statement. Again, the use of Twitter requires forethought and others have paid for their opinion in the media, just or unjust.

        ‘Cyber-lynch mob’ is a misnomer for the technological advances of stating an opinion, especially on a platform that would not function or become profitable without it.

        She is still employable at a different position and with someone else in the future.

        • WHAT? Look up “bully.” Who did Justine bully? Please, name him or her for me. That’s fanciful and desperate. But even if she was a bully, in ONE tweet (which is impossible), that would not justify the unethical and vicious conduct in return.

          ‘Cyber-lynch mob’ is the perfect metaphor for a large group of people who adapt the single objective of visiting retribution and harm on a single person, using the internet. “Advance an opinion” is a pretty dishonest euphemism for “Destroy her! Hate her!”

    • I find it worrying that you are not addressing this in this piece.

      Felicity, I would like for you to do me a favor…

      I would like you to go to the nearest hardware store or mega-mart and buy a one gallon gas can. Then I would like for you to go to a gas station and buy a gallon of gas.

      Then – and this is the really important part – I would like for you to gather your loved ones around you in your home, pour the gasoline over yourself, splash any extra on those around you, and then light a match.

      Can you do that for me, Felicity?

      • Says the man inciting murder and suicide from behind a pseudonym. Really – you are too brave.

        Great discussion Jack. I have really enjoyed reading the different views. It would have been better without the abusive foul mouthed meatshield lowering the tone.

        You should consider moderation. I don’t know about in the US but in New Zealand inciting murder and suicide via the intenet is a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison. His is the worst hate and bullying i have seen while following this story and i find it odd that you allow it.

        • Thanks, Jackie. I moderate a lot, actually. Yes, AMS got carried away a bit there—he contributes a lot of substance to AE, however, and I have chosen to give him leeway. That was not, moreover, a genuine death threat of death wish, but an expression of extreme contempt. If he was a newscaster and I was management, it would be a different story.

        • I don’t know about in the US but in New Zealand inciting murder and suicide via the intenet is a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

          Well then, thank fucking Christ I still live in a country that has some measure of free speech left, instead of some totalitarian, milksop-run shithole like New Zealand.

          His is the worst hate and bullying i have seen while following this story and i find it odd that you allow it.

          Really? My comment was a simple request that is wholly within her own power to follow – I asked no one else to do anything…

          Mainly because I think people should have to clean up their own messes, and that it isn’t fair to ask others to do the work you should be doing yourself.

          Justine, however, had people call for unknown, outside actors (specifically, large black men with AIDS) to rape her.

          And I’m the asshole? I’m the monster?

          Bitch, you think that shit I said was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

          While you wait, look up the concept known as “True Threat” as it relates to speech in America…

          Or go play in traffic. Either one works for me.

          • Meatshield – Your comments leave me wondering what has happened to you that has made you such an angry person seemingly incapable of intelligent debate.

            Anyway – I hope you have a Merry Christmas.

            And again to Jack – Thanks. Have enjoyed the debate. I too think it is a shame that a person’s entire life can be destroyed in 140 characters where we are unable to hear her tone. Things are so easily taken out of context without body language, tone of voice etc …as someone up there said – how do we know she was not making a criticism of the fact that AIDS affects so many black Africans?

            On the other hand;

            When i was a teenager i used to play cards every night with my Dad and sisters. My Dad – being about as unPC as a really unPC thing labelled our card nights “Cards with Tards” which we all thought was hilarious (this was the 80s) Recently while my teenage daughter was spending time in the US with my Dad she messaged me to tell me she was playing “cards with tards” with grandpa.

            I still laughed on the inside at the name of our family card game, but would i tweet “Playing cards with tards with the family!” …?

            No. Regardless of the fact that i work in the addiction and mental health field. No – i just wouldn’t say it.

            Whether we like it or not, our behaviour – whether in our personal or professional lives – does reflect on our employers. You can argue that this was her private Twitter account and that should not reflect on her employer however Justine Sacco is a perfect example of community expectations and what can happen when our personal beliefs, values, and behaviour clash with what is expected of us in our professional lives.

            Ethics and how our beliefs, values and morals, customs and beliefs, and thinking all overlap and link our professional and personal lives. This fiasco highlights that.

            I hope Justine is coping ok and gets through what must be a difficult time in one piece.

            Lessons to be learned from all sides.

  11. When FB was just starting, I got a huge social pressure to join from friends I saw at least weekly. After spending too much time working in the bowels of a microform library on lynchings a century ago, I really try to avoid that kind of pressure. 140 seems just enough to start a flame war, but not enough to deal with a topic in any depth. So I actively avoid the social sites that sweep into mob mentality.
    It is becoming a small problem as people and businesses can’t believe that you don’t have those accounts. But everyone puts their foot in their mouth once in a while, and the mob never forgets or forgives. Yes, are are supposed to have free speech, but too many can’t separate ‘that came out wrong-sorry’ from ‘unapologetic jerk’ when we use only words online. Scale is forgotten during the trending tsunami and there is nowhere to hide. Have these people who call for attacks, rape, or odd restrooms even heard of the other one from the bill of rights along with free speech: ‘nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’ Saying something stupid is not worth destroying someone’s life.

    • You are not the only one who has reached that wisdom. Another public figure has refused to get a Twitter account precisely because it encourages impulsive remarks that disgrace the poster. I’d mention his name but then everyone’s mind would snap shut.

  12. Justine’s tweet reads to me as an attempt to use ‘jesters privelege’ not an actual example of white privelege. Jesters privelege is to say the unsayable, puncture, goad and ridicule any form of power, prejudice or establishment and to have everything said in the form of a joke taken in the most favourable interpretation possible. Given the vital part that humour plays in society it is a reasonable approach. Recently we’ve had several public examples of people who abuse that privelege. Justine may be one more. But othes have far more to answer for than Justine ever did. Not that that excuses her action by itself. But it does put the spotlight on her attackers.

    Justine Sacco is inept once and gets fired, Mr (Duck Dynasty) Robertson is inept once too often and gets fired. Jon Stewart keeps his job and Elan Gale lives?! A prize for anyone who can explain how that is even remotely proportionate. Let alone just.

    • What you are seeing in the Justine-lynchers, in addition to a lack of perception that makes such concepts as Jester’s Privilege futile to raise, is one-size-fits all totalitarian speech and thought constriction, by those whose self-esteem is boosted by placing themselves on the side of the censors.

      • I know there is a ‘culture war’ I know there are ‘hot button topics’ and that race is one of them. But to get into witch-burning fever at the speed of light and forget about ‘innocent until proved guilty’, ‘hear the testimony’ and every other precaution against injustice?@££$$!!. Did these people never go to see ‘The Crucible’? This is fairly fundamental stuff in the DNA of your nation. What happened? Were they not raised knowing the constitution by heart? I look from the UK to the US for some hope. I’m not seeing much. What I see frankly is young ‘inheritors’ (both sides) flushing the whole shooting match down the toilet. For a pocket full of mumbles. And to look good on tv/twitter. What happpened???

        • Most Americans have no idea what happened in Salem, don’t know about the blacklist, don’t know who Joe McCarthy was, never saw “The Crucible,” use “witch hunt” to mean “the opponents of a politician I like are trying to find out if he really did what he did and lied about, and because I like him and don’t like them, they are being unfair and partisan.” They take free speech for granted and don’t comprehend the danger of this kind of mass shunning exercise for relative trivia.

          • Dumbstruck… I would tend to disbelief. Those you are trying to fend off here seem capable of rational thought, can frame a sentence, don’t sound educationally deprived. Yet what you describe is … but i fear to intrude further upon what must be a signficant private grief.

            • This problem was flagged, but not solved,twos decade ago in “Cultural Literacy.” There is no accumulated cultural wisdom, and we spin our wheels dealing with self-inflicted problems that have already been solved, but nobody remembers the solution. Meanwhile, you can’t invoke the Red Scare with supposedly educated people who don’t know who the Allies fought against, or with, in WW II.

              • Cultural Literacy – that’s Hirsch right? A solid body of facts that citizens must absorb before their thinking skills can engage? I didn’t read it but it required rote learning I think (like a doctor learning the arteries and bones of the body, you can’t deduce it, you have to learn it). Thus it got confused with a conservative view of history and blocked by the teachers? I hope i got that right. I associate that with Alasdair McIntyres ‘After Virtue’ – a Scots guy who wrote about the same period. When can we say ‘right’ or ‘good’ without cultural reference or relativism? That kind of discussion. So I’ve got some reading to do. Thanks.

                Meanwhile how do we save Justine when we can’t say ‘fascist book-burner’, ‘Joan of Arc’ ‘Galileo’ or ‘Voltaire’ or ‘Martin Luther not king’ or Shakespeares fool ‘Feste’, nor apparently can we say ‘Mayflower’, Liberty Bell, founding father or Gettysburg? Give them a wikipedia torrent and tell them to come back when they’ve finished? I’m not actually sure facts are the problem.

              • Having slept on the problem, and looked at both sides, I am reluctantly inclined thus: The right term for any twitterstorm is not viral but fungal. The right term for the spectrum ‘Justine Sasso to Elan Gale’ is not A**hole but parasite or maggot.

                The parasites and maggots eat away substance with sharp cynicism, as of a person eating a four course gourmet meal on the siidewalk in front of a homeless person, not as I first thought for satire, but for mockery. Mockery. ‘How are the mighty fallen…’

                Then the tweetfungus spreads, destroying everything thats left open to attack, including the parasites and maggots. Thus creating a new wound… Any attempt to intervene ends up accelerating the fungus – that’s its nature. Comment is nutrition. Debate no longer clarifies or progresses enquiry into the truth, it destroys truth. The appearance of the ‘opposition’ as a monster is mistaken. The tweetfungus ensures you are looking into a mirror. Your efforts in antipathetic comment are damaging your own side, consuming your own ethos. All comment, all debate, all enquiry is toxic. Including this one.

                A heavy on-blog correction from Jack is like a locker room briefing from a top grade coach when you never play the game. Unless you are taking hits and making yards nothing you or the coach say means anything. That’s how Jack ends up getting attacked for saying the bloomin’ obvious.

                As Jack Marshall said (paraphrased) on another post “We know what is right. We need the discipline to do it.” Dingggg. The light bulb on top of my head switches on.

                ****I must stop commenting on a comment about a twitterstorm about a tweet that is mocking/satirising AIDS in Africa – and do something about AIDS in Africa. ****

                Or homelessness, or healthcare, or some other practical matter. Preferably, that action would be in a team. A team with the people i like least. Then what I, or at least the survivors, say may heal rather than damage what I value. As it is, every word here is poisonous.

                There is a minimum qualification for commentary – Scars won virtuously, in union, in a good cause. That’s what ‘the inheritors’ of America are so lacking in. That’s why every day they flush more of the ‘shining city on a hill’ down the toilet.

                So – Good bye. See you all in a year or seven. Shosholoza. And thanks for the lesson, coach.

                Sorry for the word count in this. It’s my ‘mind dump’ I’m afraid.

          • You would think we’d know better by now. By the time the English Governor found out what was happening, 24 innocent people had been hanged or “Pressed to death” and roughly 150 were imprisoned, all because an hysterical teen-age girl was seeking some attention.

            • More than one girl, and the “touch test” was considered objective evidence at the time.

              No excuses, but if we don’t understand how they were thinking we are handicapped in trying to avoid making similar mistakes.

  13. Not everyone whose conduct is shocking to “mainstream values” gets awarded a Lenny Bruce Memorial Prize. Describing Justine Sacco’s AIDS tweet as simply “provocative” suggests a total misunderstanding by our host of the societal context of the words she used. That she was born (apparently) privileged and white in South Africa during the Apartheid years just underscores, and makes more horrifying, this point. The best-case “ethical” perspective on the Tweet Heard ‘Round the World is that she had absolutely no sense of the impact of her words — however, given what can be readily gleaned from the Wonder Web about her background, that seems unlikely. Rather, she absolutely did understand the meaning and potential impact of her words and chose to use them with full knowledge of the weight they would have — that just makes it all the worse. That said, if you accept these propositions as the intellectually legitimate framework in which to assess her actions, from what I can tell our host’s responses within these comments are largely designed to provoke others, not in fact to provide an ethical assessment of the journalistic conduct in covering Ms. Sacco’s story. The ethical flaw here starts with the subject of the story and very little of the coverage I have seen in the world of #HasJustineLandedYet? appears to be anywhere near as flawed. Except, alas, on this generally well-intended blog.

    • There is no discussion of journalistic conduct in the post at all. Proportion, proportion, proportion. And to argue that she intended to offend anyone is beyond laughable.
      Researching her background after the fact can’t justify the attacks made before anything was known about her at all…it’s bootstrapping, and after the fact rationalizing of vicious behavior that is vicious regardless of her background.

      • To make the bootstrapping worse, the fact that she’s South African actually adds some weight to AM’s argument that it was a (bad) joke about inequality in Africa, given that in South Africa, it’s blacks who suffer disproportionately from AIDS (13.6% for them vs. 0.3% for whites in 2008). It’s still a bad joke, though, and I still can’t understand why a PR person thought it passed muster..

    • Rather, she absolutely did understand the meaning and potential impact of her words and chose to use them with full knowledge of the weight they would have — that just makes it all the worse.
      Reading her mind, were you?

  14. God, I hate Twitter. I really hate it. I have hated it since I first knew of its existence: A “tech baby” that deserved and justified its being aborted. I would have hated it before it rolled out, if I had known of it then. I wish its signals could be banned AND jammed universally.

    “Here I go, blowing my nose…EWW! I see pieces of Sacco in that snot!” That’s about how stupid and worthless it’s become. It isn’t a social medium; it’s just another minefield of life, or like Jack alludes, another e-lynching tool. Another channel for dumping and multiplying fear, anger, ignorance, hate and malice. Tell me the human race is better off for having a Twitterverse; good luck persuading me. Tell me you don’t do Twitter, or have ceased doing Twitter, and I will praise you and tend much more to trust you. Tell me you use it, and like a kind, unarmed, off-duty cop responding at the scene of an emergency, I’ll implore: “Just move away from it as fast as you can, with your fingers limp, with all your thoughts completely disconnected from all keystroke-making parts on your person, and RUN away from it, and NEVER go back.”

    • To clarify (sort of): I would vote for politicians who advocated tweet control, before I would vote for politicians who advocated gun control.

      The perfect policy, put into law: “Send one tweet that one other tweet-reader says is offensive, and you’re banned from Twitter for life, with a mandatory minimum jail sentence equal to the years of your age at the time of offense, with the penalty of death for violating the ban – and whoever is making money from the existence of Twitter must pay a Twitterverse Offensiveness Tax for each such offense, with the fine doubling with each subsequent offense incident.”

      The policy would be fully justified, if just one tweet-reader is spared from reading an offensive tweet…

  15. Jack: She is in PUBLIC RELATIONS for goodness sake*. She should know better than to tweet something like this. If anything it proves that she is inept in knowing what to put in public. Would you want someone handling PR for you to be someone who doesn’t know that tweeting that is a no no? I wouldn’t.

    Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism or repercussions.

    *Well, she was in PR….

    • Irrelevant to the question. The discussion is the unethical reaction to her by the mob.

      Whether or not she “should have known better” (#35 on the list), makes no difference that the response a gross mob reaction that lacks both proportion and discernment. That IS the point of Jack’s post.

  16. Having read through these comments (about 125 at this post) it seems to come down to two arguments. Either you agree with the original article or you say that she deserves it. What I can’t find from those who argue that she deserves it is their opinion on whether it was fair. The all just seem to tip toe around the question and throw up arguments like, “She’s white,” “She’s a PR person, “Its Twitter,” Etc. I think I can assume then they are saying its fair, but I don’t know for sure. A few years back I would have given the knee jerk reaction and said she deserved it. Now, I don’t see how anyone could agree that it is. She wasn’t given the benefit of doubt. She wasn’t given anytime to explain herself at all. She tweeted before she left on her flight and by the time she arrived she was public enemy number one. How is that fair?

    • How is that fair?
      It isn’t fair, not even a little bit.
      People who think it is should remember that tomorrow it could be them.
      Make a joke about something a bit off-color from an old SNL episode (Jane, you ignorant slut!) and lose your job, get publicly painted as the worst kind of racist.
      No trial, no defense, just a pack of rabid hyenas shredding a carcass.
      People are awesome!
      Esp. at Christmas time!

  17. The Blaze has a poll up: 89% say it was a bad joke vs 11% say she should be fired.
    I’m guessing the fact that she is blonde female and rich contributed to the hatred of her.

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