If the name Justine is not familiar to you, you've probably been blessedly off social media this last week. Justine Sacco is a South African-born, American PR executive. Her Twitter bio identifies her as the head of PR for IAC, a media company owned by Barry Diller, which includes sites like The Daily Beast and Vimeo. Before boarding a plane on Friday to visit her father in South Africa, she made a flippant and really ugly tweet to her roughly 200 followers. Unfortunately, someone then forwarded that tweet to Gawker's Valleywag editor Sam Biddle. And then all hell broke loose and there pretty much wasn't a person on Twitter that hadn't seen that tweet.
By the time she landed in Johannesburg, Justine Sacco was a trending topic on Twitter and a full-fledged internet meme:
As Sacco flew south through Europe and over Africa, her life began to slowly unravel. On the day when no one at work wants to work, she became the unwitting focus of Twitter, quickly eliciting a response from her boss Diller, who called her AIDS joke "outrageous, and offensive" (true!). As day became night on the East Coast, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet shot up Twitter's list of trending topics. Google — in case you were wondering what people there do in their spare time — jumped in as well, displaying a real-time flight tracker at the top of search results for Sacco's name. (Or maybe they didn't.) Someone registered the domain name justinesacco.com and directed it to the homepage of Aid for Africa. There were even highly relevant Photoshops!
By Saturday, Sacco had deleted not only the tweet, but her Twitter and Facebook accounts, been fired from her job and issued an apology.
I'm not going to shed any tears for Justine Sacco. She had a history of tweets in poor taste, which as a public relations executive, she should have been smart enough to avoid. The tweet was wrong on many levels and deserves no attempt at justification. There's a great little example in internet justice in that Aid for Africa purchased the domain name www.justinesacco.com and had the site point to a fundraising page.
But in between the expected responses of calling out the racist statement and general insults of being an idiot and hopefully being fired, Sacco was also subjected to some really ugly responses, including a tweet that never was captured by any of the media covering the story which read "I hope she gets raped by a giraffe", as well as other suggestions of the necessity of sexual violence on her person and death threats.
So we respond to ignorance and racism by adding violence and sexism to the mix?
Exactly how does that help?
I mentioned in the comments yesterday that one of the things that I found curious about the Phil Robertson suspension from Duck Dynasty is that there are multiple incidences of Robertson saying sexist and misogynistic things that aired without a complaint. No one demanded that he stop insulting half of the population and no editor carefully cut that footage from the hours of filming to keep it from airing.
Ugliness is ugliness. There's no reason to be offended by racism and respond to it with sexism and think that's acceptable.