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Justine Sacco, Internet Justice, and the Dangers of a Righteous Mob 399

Posted by samzenpus
from the everyone-loves-a-loser dept.
An anonymous reader writes "So what exactly was the injustice that everyone was fighting against here? There were no pro-Sacco factions, nobody thought her comment was funny, and it became clear early on that her employers were not going to put up with this. It was quite easy for groups to unite against her precisely because it was such an obviously idiotic comment to make. By the time Valleywag had posted her tweet, the damage to her career was already done; there wasn't any 'need' for further action by anyone. The answer is a bit darker – this wasn't really about fairness, it was about entertainment."
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Justine Sacco, Internet Justice, and the Dangers of a Righteous Mob

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  • Fantastic summary! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:22PM (#45768727)
    Wow, I feel like I understand the issue so well now! Thanks, samzenpus!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:23PM (#45768731)

    Was anyone actually offended by her remark?
    Or do people just like being outraged?

  • Ummm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:28PM (#45768785) Journal
    Was there ever some kind of doubt that this was about watching somebody fuck up and then get hounded mercilessly? Anybody?

    People get off on blood sports and mob violence, this is the mostly-legal and really easy flavor.
  • Context? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YuppieScum (1096) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:29PM (#45768809) Journal

    Is it really too much to ask for the "summary" to actually provide even the tiniest morsel of context?

     

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:32PM (#45768837) Journal

    That's the funny thing. I haven't read very many comments from South Africans, or Africans in general, demonstrating their anger. The majority of the "outrage" seems to be coming from Europeans and North Americans.

    I hesitate to call what has happened "entertainment". It was more of a good old' fashioned mob, but "on a computer". People get a rush out of being outraged and being part of a communal attack on an errant individual or group. They can wip themselves up into a vast moral outrage, feel very superior to the person in question (even if the likelihood is fairly high that they've said the same or worse) and eak out some vicarious revenge that they can use to pump up their ego.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:32PM (#45768847)

    Companies need to stop coddling rich morons from overpriced schools and instead hire talented working class people who can actually get the job done.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:36PM (#45768885)

    Humans get a dopamine boostfrom being outraged and feeling morally superior. For some people, it's practically the only thing going for them in their lives. Twitter and Tumblr is like crack to these people. They have a name, Social Justice Warriors, because you know, real justice doesn't cut it. See also Professional Victims and White Knights.

  • In the old days (Score:4, Insightful)

    by John Allsup (987) <s.chalisque@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:37PM (#45768895) Homepage Journal
    People called foxes vermin and hunted them with a pack of dogs.
    Now people call other people names and hunt them with a pack of other humans.

    Aside from that, the basic drive is the same.  It's a relic from our caveman days, so far as I'm concerned.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:38PM (#45768901) Homepage

    It's something anyone who grew up in a small town understands: when you do something stupid in public, everybody will know about it. In a big city, if you make a fool of yourself at a bar, you'll be the laughingstock of the patrons for a couple weeks until someone else comes along. You'll be the butt of jokes from your friends for a while. But the world at large will be pretty much oblivious. In a small town it's different. Everyone in town will know someone who was there, and what would've been a miniscule fraction of the big city will be 90% of the small town. But it'll still mostly be shrugged off, because again everyone in town's been there. Anyone who rags on you too badly will have their own foray into foolishness brought up and bandied about again, and they'll shut up and let it drop. And individually you learn early on what kinds of things will merely make you look foolish vs. what things will cause serious town-wide outrage, and you avoid doing the latter kind.

    The Internet is more the small town than the big city. People assume that nobody will find out what they said or did in public, but the anonymity of the big city just isn't there. And the person in question is what makes a lot of these things such a big deal. We don't see a big flap over the thousands of stupid, racist, bigoted comments ordinary people make every day. In this case though, as with the "Duck Dynasty" case, it's not an ordinary person. It's someone who ought to know that their comments are being broadcast to a much larger audience, and who ought to know how those comments are going to be taken. And they go ahead and make them anyway. That's what makes these things go viral like they do.

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:39PM (#45768909)

    Ms. Sacco deserved everything she got. Nothing more, nothing less. If you do something so overwhelmingly and obviously stupid as what she did, and then compounded that stupidity by getting on a plane and going offline for several hours, what do you expect is going to happen? The author of the article is just trying to twist this sordid tale into some kind of cautionary example of the excesses of "internet justice." Meanwhile, kids are killing themselves because they're being bullied for doing nothing other than being themselves. Where's the author's outrage over that? Ms. Sacco neither has the excuse of being a child, nor the defense of having done nothing to offend. If you do something so stupid that NOBODY is willing to defend it, then why should she not suffer the consequences? One should also consider that the kind of people who would even entertain making such offensive remarks in a public forum are not the kind of people who are so easily shamed. They tend to be sociopaths who end up hardening their self-image in response to the outrage. Don't weep for the likes of her.

  • Re:Context? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twocows (1216842) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:43PM (#45768947)
    Who is Justine Sacco and why should I care? My 70 year old Dad makes stupid, racist comments all the time (love him anyway, but man, some old people). I think he has even had a few internet mobs after him because he kept posting stupid, racist things to a primarily left-leaning internet forum for the better part of five years.

    I understand that I could Google this or read the article, but the point is that the summary should offer some context for people unfamiliar with whatever this story is about, and it utterly fails to do that. It's a mess, the editor didn't do his job at all here.
  • by al0ha (1262684) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:45PM (#45768989) Journal
    The point of her being fired has nothing to do with public outrage, hysteria, infotainment.

    This person is a highly paid corporate PR professional and her tweet showed that she is not that good at her job after all, thus being fired. My wife is a PR professional who would never make such as stupid mistake, because she's a professional to the core at all times.
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:47PM (#45769005) Journal

    That's the funny thing. I haven't read very many comments from South Africans, or Africans in general, demonstrating their anger. The majority of the "outrage" seems to be coming from Europeans and North Americans.

    Which African news sources have you been following? Clearly you must be following more of them than news sources in North America and Europe, since you've made a comprehensive enough survey to be able to say where the majority of the outrage (or as you put it, "outrage" in sneering quotation marks) is coming from.

    I hesitate to call what has happened "entertainment". It was more of a good old' fashioned mob, but "on a computer". People get a rush out of being outraged and being part of a communal attack on an errant individual or group.

    So only the victims of racism should be offended by racism? We in the west had no business being offended by Apartheid in South Africa? Only Syrians should be offended by what their government is doing to them? Only black people should be offended by the treatment of blacks in America? Only Indians should be offended by the racist remarks that appear on /. every time their country is mentioned? Only children should be offended by child abuse? Only women should be offended when a woman gets raped?

    They can wip (sic) themselves up into a vast moral outrage, feel very superior to the person in question (even if the likelihood is fairly high that they've said the same or worse) and eak out some vicarious revenge that they can use to pump up their ego.

    And...? What's wrong with feeling superior to a racist? You say that like it's a bad thing. I think it's a good thing.

    (even if the likelihood is fairly high that they've said the same or worse)

    Projecting, much? Can't say I've ever cracked a racist joke about catching AIDS in Africa. I've never said the same or worse. The likelihood of saying the same or worse is pretty low for most normal people. Maybe not for you, but it is for me. But then I'm not the one defending racism here.

    Funny how quickly the defenders of racism come out of the woodwork. A bit more subtle than the pointy white hoods it it's still with us, as your post demonstrates.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:47PM (#45769015) Journal

    The author of the article is just trying to twist this sordid tale into some kind of cautionary example of the excesses of "internet justice."

    Exactly. This is the author saying that people who have little power as individuals should not gang up to weild power as a group, after all, next time, it could be a wealthy person who is the target of the hate, and Forbes would not like that.

  • by Xolotl (675282) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:48PM (#45769029) Journal
    You are reading way too much intelligence into her tweet ....
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:50PM (#45769045)

    While that case could be made, after looking at some of her other tweets, that are just as offensive, I am not so sure if her works meant anything other than what was intended.

    Yeah, I read them, and I didn't get that impression from them. In one she talks about a big stinky german guy sitting near her on an airplane. Some people have taken that as being anti-german. I took it as the guy probably talking loudly with a german accent so it was an obviously identifiable characteristic. The brevity of tweets makes it deceptively easy to assume the worst intent on the part of the writer.

  • by jd.schmidt (919212) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:53PM (#45769069)

    Anonymous nobodies can say dumb thing all day long with lesser consequences because they have less to lose. If you are making your money in the public eye, you also suffer from its displeasure. There is no way around it. Also, everyone is a hypocrite when it comes to this stuff, people turn from supposed supporters of free speech, as if that should protect your job, to demanding resignations for saying the wrong thing all the time.

  • Re:Or maybe... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:55PM (#45769087) Journal
    PR person makes racist joke on social media? That isn't job job ending. That is a career ending move.
  • Who ? What ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pop69 (700500) <billyNO@SPAMbenarty.co.uk> on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:10PM (#45769249) Homepage
    Why should I care or even know about this ?
  • by Xolotl (675282) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:13PM (#45769275) Journal

    The brevity of tweets makes it deceptively easy to assume the worst intent on the part of the writer.

    ... and puts additional responsibility on the author to choose their words carefully.

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:22PM (#45769369)

    Considering that majority of the people who have read or re-tweeted the post are from Europe or North America it would follow that the majority of outrage would also come from Europe or North America.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:32PM (#45769455) Journal

    The likelihood of saying the same or worse is pretty low for most normal people.

    False. Her comment made light of a terrible situation, to be sure. But importantly, it did not advocate for any bad things to happen to anyone. Have most normal people done worse? Yes.

    Most people supported the Iraq war. Most people support the War on Drug Users. Most people support "enhanced interrogation", aka torture. You can turn on Fox News any day of the week, and find people saying things far worse than what Sacco said. Why are they worse? Because they are seriously trying to implement policies that harm people. Get some perspective.

  • by Urkki (668283) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:32PM (#45769457)

    Based purely on this /. article's comment's, I'd say she deserves a medal for bringing attention to the AIDS problem in Africa... Also, do you think her apology is insincere, or do you just generally not believe in forgiving?

  • Re:Or maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie (914043) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:32PM (#45769461)
    Unless of course you want to work for a company that agrees with whatever you said. Even if they are not openly racist, after the initial drama dies down there are plenty of companies that have management who buy into the idea that such things are liberal-pc-whatever in nature and thus hiring such a person is a quiet 'screw you' to a culture they don't approve of.
  • by khallow (566160) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:33PM (#45769469)

    So only the victims of racism should be offended by racism?

    Well there is this thing in legal theory called "standing" [wikipedia.org]. The idea crudely is that for things that don't rise to the level of a crime, then one needs to demonstrate that one has been adversely affected by the behavior or activity. If one can't do this, such as would be the case with a whiny, anonymous person at a keyboard, then one doesn't have standing and hence, the judge can tell them to shut up and get lost.

    I think this is an excellent way to deal with the endless, useless complaints of racism for behavior and opinions that harms no one aside possibly from the instigator. As a bonus, it gives you more time for your other odious habits.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:38PM (#45769511)

    Considering that majority of the people who have read or re-tweeted the post are from Europe or North America it would follow that the majority of outrage would also come from Europe or North America.

    Or maybe its just that the majority of twitter users come from Europe or North America.

  • Affluenza (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:48PM (#45769573)

    Sounds like the 1% has their own kind of epidemic going around

  • by epyT-R (613989) on Monday December 23, 2013 @05:59PM (#45770067)

    Funny how quickly the defenders of racism come out of the woodwork. A bit more subtle than the pointy white hoods it it's still with us, as your post demonstrates.

    Funny how quickly legions of irrational idiots bust out the ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies every time someone questions their political correctness-driven groupthink 'outrage.' People questioning these political agitators are not bigots. They know this 'outrage' is purposely designed to get as big a yield as possible regardless of what qualifies as a reasonable response to specific circumstances.

    People like you are like that smarmy, overconfident yet easily-needled kid in class who gets picked on all the time because he gets unreasonably upset over nothing. To hide his insecurity, he's always looking for a reason to be 'outraged' at others' behavior so that he has justification to 'smite' them (or get authority to do so). The fact that making offhand comments on the internet results in career suicide suggests a culture wide ailment. The fact that most of this irrationality can be traced right back to the 'social justice' PC crowd's enough-is-never-enough position is not a surprise.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday December 23, 2013 @06:15PM (#45770151) Homepage Journal

    Well, you are right of course, the behavior was unprofessional. That doesn't mean that the reaction isn't disturbing.

    Just because the inciting behavior is unreasonable doesn't make the piling on reaction *rational*. It has more than a whiff of a mob turning on someone who is suddenly perceived as vulnerable.

    The people reacting to this act like they know all about this person. But do they? All they have to go on is one foolish comment. Many years ago, in the early 70s, my older teen sister volunteered in a program for intellectually disabled children -- this was at a time before this kind of service was common, or required for high school graduation. One day she remarked to one of her friends that she had to leave because it was time to go see "her retards." Word got back to one of the parents and my sister was banned from the program. Now I can understand the position of the parent defending her child, but is it reasonable for her to deprive her child of the support and help of someone he loved just because that person said something stupid?

    If there is one thing I've learned over the years it's that the fruits of self-righteousness are bitter. The instinct to become part of an avenging mob is no respecter of fact, context, circumstance or consequences. It is not to be trusted.

  • by cyberchondriac (456626) on Monday December 23, 2013 @06:25PM (#45770201) Journal
    While I'm not familiar with this particular case, and so I'm not commenting on this specific incident, the problem is how quick somebody is to label someone a "racist" these days, half the time without even understanding what the term originally meant (believing your race is superior to all others, or hatred of an entire race, not that one other particular race may collectivity have a fault - that's stereotyping).
    It's the people who are butthurt and offended by every small thing (or act like to fit in) that reduce the credibility and impact of criticism of racism when it's valid.
    Seems like most people out there screaming "racist" and "homophobe" at the top of their lungs are blanket-labeling people from just one or two statements, as a knee-jerk reaction, ( I see it here all the time) and ironically, sometimes they're more hate-filled and intolerant than the people they're attacking. It's gotten very chic these days to label people based on very little evidence. This only inflames tensions.
  • by TsuruchiBrian (2731979) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:18PM (#45771403)

    Considering key parts of his campaign rolled around it

    Considering that he's the first US president who wasn't 100% white, I think it's fairly safe to say that in general being black does not help your chances of being president.

    I am not denying that his being black helped get him some votes (especially among black people), but what I am saying is that it actually probably cost him a lot more votes. Even if every black person voted for him, that's only about 13% of the population (who already traditionally vote democrat). There are probably at least as many, if not more, people that voted against him because he was black.

    and there's no shortage of to this day "If you're against any part of whatever Obama is doing, you're a racist."

    We live in a country of 300 million people. For just about any crazy statement, you can probably find at least 50 people willing to say it on TV.

    There are people out there who will say that anybody opposed to anything Obama wants is racist. There are also people out there (many of the legislators), who will refuse to support anything Obama supports just to be in opposition to Obama. I think it probably has to do more with politics than racism, but for some of those detractors, the animosity probably stems from racism. I don't know what percentage, but it's probably bigger than 0 and smaller than 100.

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