We all know you should be careful with what you post on social media, but here’s a true story that illustrates this point with much clarity. It’s the story of a woman whose career and life were destroyed with one single tweet.
Justine Sacco only had 170 Twitter followers. She was unknown, working as Director of Corporate Communications for IAC, a media and Internet company. In 2013 she was traveling to visit family in South Africa and being bored out of her mind, she started tweeting.
Then she tweeted this:
Right after that, she boarded her flight from London to South Africa, meaning she was offline for 11 hours. In that time, the tweet went viral.
And it became vicious.
People responded with outrage at her apparent racist tweet, demanding she be fired. IAC responded publicly:
“This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.”
It got completely out of hand, resulting in a Twitter hashtag that started trending: #HasJustineLandedYet.
All that time, she remained blissfully ignorant—until she landed and turned her phone back on. She got flooded with messages, most of them not very nice. To her credit, Justine immediately tweeted a sincere apology in desperate effort to do damage control, but it was too late.
Because of one single tweet, Justine Sacco was publicly shamed and humiliated, lost her job, and forever damaged her reputation. Not only that, but she had to endure months and months of online harassment, with people threatening harm to her and her family. It’s a hefty price to pay for a single mistake.
What We Can Learn
1. The first lesson is obvious: Think before you hit publish. Don’t ever tweet, post, publish anything that others can interpret as offensive. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but be careful. Jokes especially can get you into hot water faster than you can say Justine Sacco.
2. The second big lesson—and this is one we’d all do well to remember—is that we need to think twice before publicly shaming or crucifying someone. Even if what they tweeted or posted was offensive and racist, does that give us the right to destroy their lives. In case you wonder, here’s how bad it got for Justine:
In his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, author Jon Ronson describes not only the Justine Sacco case, but other similar cases as well and he highlights the damaging toll on people’s lives after going through something like this. Depression, PTSD, paranoia, these are just some of the issues. So if you ask me, the biggest lesson from the Justine Sacco social media fail is not to think before you post. It’s to not take part in public shaming. As Christians, we should not help destroy someone’s life. So the next time you see something like this happen, let’s stand up for the victim. They may have done a stupid thing, but they did not deserve this.
Next up: What happens when CEO’s confuse the Google search bar with Twitter. True story!