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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?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:27PM (#45768781)

      This comment offends me.

    • 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.

      • 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 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.

      • by 32771 (906153)

        That, and lets not forget:
        http://xkcd.com/386/ [xkcd.com]
        So here is my contribution to "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white! â" Justine Sacco"

        There is this article I remember about British women increasing the chance of getting HIV by having unprotected sex in Africa:
        http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/26/us-sextourism-idUSN2638979720071126 [reuters.com]

        There is a clear potential for her being wrong about whiteness causing rational behaviour or something similar. While some might argue that often

      • Humans get a dopamine boostfrom being outraged and feeling morally superior.

        I bet it's good to know you are better than all those people.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      People like being outraged when they are insulated from others. It's a typical, "Mee too ZOMG!" online reaction.

    • I think people just like being outraged.

      We like to feel like we are on the moral high ground. For many people the only way to do that is to be outraged. So the fact we are outraged it makes us feel good, because it makes us feel like we are a better, more moral person.

      Why do you think there is so much outrage on a lot of stupid things, because the stupid things stupid people have opinions on.
      Here are some of my favorite things I see people get insulted about.

      Sex: We all think about it, so we have some sor

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

      While perhaps *you* were not offended it is arguably, objectively an offensive, insensitive and racist remark. It's especially troubling coming from well-to-do first-world person about an issue that greatly impacts the not-so-well-to-do people of third-world. Like the remark (Wikipedia says is commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette) "Let them eat cake".

      To be fair, offensive, insensitive and racist things can be funny given the right presentation and audience - we are all idiots if we cannot reflect

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:27PM (#45768779)

    The author makes a valid point when he says that there is no evidence that her account was hacked, but what if it were. Indeed. What if your account gets hacked, or someone sets up an account pretending to be you, and then they post something provacative or outrageous. A lot of damage can be done before you even have a chance to respond.

    • The little bit that I have read says that this isn't the first time she's made racially motivated comments.

      Just like no one would blink if someone hacked this account and posted sarcastic remarks about, well, anything.

    • by jon3k (691256)
      This excuse is used so often on twitter it has become a cliche - "oh no! my account was hacked! i definitely didnt get drunk and claim nazis werent that bad"
  • 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.
    • People get off on blood sports and mob violence, this is the mostly-legal and really easy flavor.

      Yeah. I'm always a little disappointed when someone doesn't break out the caps lock too. -_- You know shit got real then. On a different note, I don't think a single tweet is a reason to end someone's prospects at doing more than "Would you like fries with that?" no matter how offensive it was.

      But on the internet, lives are created and destroyed every day in radically disproportionate ways; This is one of the big problems with our culture eliminating privacy; It makes every mistake you make a lifelong one.

      • Your jurisdiction may vary; but getting rid of an unwanted tweet is probably substantially harder than getting rid of an unwanted fetus....
        • Your jurisdiction may vary; but getting rid of an unwanted tweet is probably substantially harder than getting rid of an unwanted fetus....

          This is America. Even The Doctor knows to raise his hands and beg us not to shoot when he drops in for a visit. We are rather careless with human life -- between our murder rates, military, religious-controlled government, capital punishment, etc., we do away with a lot of people. Unwanted fetuses though, suspiciously, we have a problem with. A lot of people need to take a car trip to get rid of one, and listen to a doctor lecturing them. We don't have to endure that for any other type of destruction of hum

  • This is really a ./ post? Really? This isn't an issue of someone tweeting stupidity and being harassed by people who are just like her? What a waste of energy.
  • 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?

     

    • The title pretty much sums it up. Justine Sacco made a (stupid, racist) comment that nobody found funny, and she had Internet Justice dispensed upon her in the form of a dangerous, righteous mob.
      • 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 TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:29PM (#45768811)

    This might be the worst "summary" I've ever seen on slashdot.

  • 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 Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:35PM (#45768865)

    For those who didn't RTFA, her tweet said:

    "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"

    I thought it was intended to be darkly ironic, reflecting an awareness of the privileges that the poor in africa don't have. It was an ugly truth, but censoring her for saying it doesn't help anyone except people who would rather pretend that aids in africa isn't a problem that lines up with race and economic status. She wasn't saying that aids is a disease for black people, she was saying that too many black people don't have access to the resources to protect themselves.

    Compare this to the Duck Dynasty thing where the guy really had no sense of irony, the surface meaning of his words was the intended meaning.

    • 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 @03:56PM (#45769093)

        You are reading way too much intelligence into her tweet ....

        Obviously I disagree. I look at her apology as evidence - it is a complete apology. Not one of those "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" passive-aggressive non-apologies that latent assholes and corporations use to defend their own wrong-headedness. It is an apology entirely consistent with my interpretation of the original tweet.

        "Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet. There is an AIDS crisis taking place in this country, that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand."

        • by Xolotl (675282) on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:11PM (#45769259) Journal

          Her apology pretty much says it right there: "a needless and careless tweet". If it was "darkly ironic" etc etc it wouldn't be "needless and careless".

          She's (was) a PR exec - writing heartfelt apologies is part of her job description. Then again, so is not creating PR disasters for her employer (which this was, even if it was indeed meant as a deep commentary on the lot of poor South Africans), so YMMV I suppose. Anyway, I find it hard to believe this was anything deep and meaningful with a history like this:

          http://www.buzzfeed.com/jenvesp/16-tweets-justine-sacco-regrets-hxg7 [buzzfeed.com]

          • Her apology pretty much says it right there: "a needless and careless tweet". If it was "darkly ironic" etc etc it wouldn't be "needless and careless".

            It isn't an apology if you use it to defend yourself.

            Then again, so is not creating PR disasters for her employer

            I agree, she demonstrated poor suitability for her job regardless of her intentions.

            I find it hard to believe this was anything deep and meaningful with a history like this:

            Already addressed in my other post.

    • by DaveV1.0 (203135)
      You read too much into it hoping it wasn't exactly what it looked like.
      • by HiThere (15173)

        But I don't have a clear idea of what it looked like.

        I think this is probably common in twitter posts, as the short nature of the post encourages considerable ambiguity and lack of precision. OTOH, it seems a clear indication that she's unqualified as a PR executive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by operagost (62405)

      Compare this to the Duck Dynasty thing where the guy really had no sense of irony, the surface meaning of his words was the intended meaning.

      The irony is that you seem to believe you have intimate knowledge of what his intended meaning was.

    • by khallow (566160)
      Eh, it looks like she's done this before [buzzfeed.com]. I think the real difference is that her customers have higher expectations and are a lot more delicate than Duck Dynasty viewers.
    • I think a joke that includes AIDS in any way, shape, or form is bound to be unfunny and offensive. Unless of course you're South Park, apparently.

    • Jah-Wren -

      You are right, and 95 percent of the super-justified, self-righteous commenters on here are just making themselves sound foolish.

      The tweet only makes sense as a work of sarcasm -- like walking outside during a rainstorm and saying "Wow -- great day!" In person, the way you convey sarcasm is with a turn of voice and an eyeroll. We all do things like this all the time. It's just that allowance for this type of expression don't exist on Twitter.

      I am not a progressive and have little sympathy for that

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

    by John Allsup (987) <s@chalisque.gmail@com> 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 asliarun (636603)

      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.

      +5 Insightful.

      Forming packs and hunting people is old sport too. There's a reason they call this activity a witch-hunt.

      Along with the pack violence mentality that persists in us humans, what amazes me is our capacity for double standards.
      There's a special sort of viciousness that we reserve for others, when we observe a trait in them - that we despise in ourselves.

  • 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 TubeSteak (669689)

      We don't see a big flap over the thousands of stupid, racist, bigoted comments ordinary people make every day.

      I think this dovetails into TFA's shock and surprise that âoeinternet justiceâ leads to death threats, when really that almost any [public person] gets threatened with harm, no matter how non-controversial the reason for their (sudden) fame.

  • 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.

    • 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 hondo77 (324058)
      Darn, I just used up my mod points. Well done.
    • by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:58PM (#45769123)

      You respond with outrage because it makes you feel good about yourself. I respond with apathy because I don't care. Comme ci comme ca.

      It's all about poor ego development. It makes people feel good to think that they are righting some wrong by attacking people like her, or like Paula Deen, or Phil Robertson, etc...

      It's dreary. I can see getting upset if someone is inciting violence or making threats, or even pushing for e.g. anti-gay legislation. That matters.

      What some random tweeter says? Who gives a fuck.

    • 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?

  • Vapid (Score:5, Funny)

    by CodeArtisan (795142) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:41PM (#45768931)
    Wow. I have mod points and want to use them all to negatively mod the "summary" to "Incoherent".
    • by NIK282000 (737852)

      Why can't we use MOD points on articles yet? Maybe we could collectively bring the quality up a little.

      • Allowing moderators to moderate the articles themselves would be an admission that the Slashdot editors aren't very good at what they do.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:45PM (#45768987)

    (1) PR professional goes viral to a degree that she only dreamed of before (but it's not pretty).
    (2) People talk about her comment.
    (3) People talk about people talking about her comment.
    (4) People talk about people talking about people talking about her comment.

  • 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 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.

  • Human beings are monsters in these situations.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monsters_Are_Due_on_Maple_Street

  • Simple as that. Not every random thought you have is worth Tweeting, Facebooking, or whatever brand name to verb is out there.

    And to those that were outraged enough to tweet just how outraged you were: just consider actually doing something useful, or saying nothing. Not every little thing affects you personally. Not every racist, sexist, homophobic or just plain dumb comment deserves outrage and shaming by the trolls, err, masses. In fact, most if not all don't.

    Sure, if you know somebody in person and you

    • Simple as that. Not every random thought you have is worth Tweeting, Facebooking, or whatever brand name to verb is out there.

      But then why would Twitter and Facebook even exist?

      [ and, technically, the noun to verb translation would be Twittering, but that's as just offensive as "Facebooking" - (shudder) ]

  • 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.

    • 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.

      Free speech does not mean free from consequences. You can say whatever you want and people are free to react based on your comment. So if I were to tweet, "Damn niggas ruining the place. Should have hung em all 50 years ago", you are free to call me out in any way shape or form despite y right to free speech.

      She's the same way. She (apparentl
      • I don't disagree, I think I was kind of saying something similar. However if you pay attention you will notice how often people change their tune about so called free speech when they like or dislike the person in question or what was said. For example very few of the people defending the duck commander actually disagree with his comment, and very many of the same people called loudly for Bashir to be fired.

        FYI, this is common to everyone, not just one group. Still some people do rise about it somehow.

  • by Danathar (267989) on Monday December 23, 2013 @03:58PM (#45769129) Journal

    Why people seem to forget that twitter is PUBLIC is crazy.

  • I couldn't believe this when I saw it. What really got me was WHY a PR "professional" would post something like this. She gets paid to put positive spins on corporate communications. Was alcohol involved? Did she think she was posting something for only her Facebook friends to consume? Did someone guess her supersecret password "password123" and decide to have fun? Turns out she was just being dumb. Don't they teach this stuff in college communications classes? (I guess that's why the communications majors

    • Erich -

      These are good questions, but see my two other comments in this thread.

      I could care less about defending this girl, and I can certainly agree it was stupid to send out any tweet about race or AIDS that could in any way be misconstrued.

      But that doesn't change the fact (I believe) that people ARE misconstruing it.

      As I've noted, the tweet makes far more sense if you read it as sarcasm, and imagine the girl giving an eye-roll as she says it.

      Again, one can still say it was stupid, especially for a PR prof

  • Who ? What ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pop69 (700500) <billy@benart y . co.uk> on Monday December 23, 2013 @04:10PM (#45769249) Homepage
    Why should I care or even know about this ?
  • Devil's advocate:

    What if that were a sarcastic comment aimed at the lack of help people in Africa get?

    One can spin this however they want...

    • by no_go (96797)

      As a PR professional she MUST take a really good look at what she says and writes.

      If there is even the slightest possibility that it might be mis-interpreted it WILL, and should be stated differently.

      Still a fail.

    • SCHecklerX -

      Actually, as I noted in my comment upthread, that's the only context in which the tweet itself makes any sense.

      I have no interest in "spinning" it. I'm not a progressive, and I suspect this girl is. I think she expected that her "followers" all knew her to a certain degree, and would know she was being sarcastic.

      People should try this: Read the tweet in question. Then, read it again, this time picturing the girl rolling her eyes as she says it. Takes on completely different meaning, doesn't it?

      l

  • Instead of moderation, we have a mob.

  • 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

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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