In case you weren’t paying attention, a PR executive at a powerful tech firm got fired after she posted an incredibly racist tweet on Friday about the African community before boarding a flight to – get this – Africa. By the time Justine Sacco got off the plane, she found out she was “trending” on Twitter, however, for all the wrong reasons.
After the internet lynch mob shamed her for almost two days, she apologized, adding she was a native of South Africa and was sorry that she had hurt so many people there. But it was of no use. The arrow had left the bow, never to return. Sacco was fired. Her employers – tech and media company – InterActiveCorp , announced they had "parted ways" with her on Saturday.
While Sacco’s "needless and careless tweet" is a lesson in itself, there is more to it. Here are a few things we can learn from this whole episode, exploring both sides of the story.
1- Offline/Online Racism:
Racism – online or offline – is never okay. Much has been said and written about the power of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and how one has to act responsibly when posting a comment or remark on these forums. One has to be even more careful when working for a tech company like IAC that owns websites like Match.com, OkCupid, CollegeHumor, and Urbanspoon etc.
Obviously what Sacco did was downright stupid. She was a Public Relations executive – one assumes she’d know better – and worse, she was off to the country she had just insulted. Awful.
2- Cashing In On The Plight Of Others:
Cashing on someone else’s misery – even a racist’s misery for that matter – is never a good idea and certainly not a good or decent marketing strategy.
In-flight Internet provider Gogo – or maybe the person who handles their social media affairs – grabbed Sacco’s Twitter firestorm as an opportunity to sell their services. All Things D rightly said that marketing hits an all-time new low with this move.
3- Self-Righteous Internet Lynching:
Forbes contributor Tarun Wadhwa pointed out that Jutine Sacco’s comment went ignored until it was posted on Valleywag – a gossip media column operated by Gawker. From there, it blew up. It was covered by major tech blogs and within a few hours The New York Times and CNN websites jumped on the bandwagon. In addition, hashtags – which ought be called “harshtags” – started trending on Twitter ridiculing Sacco while she was on her way to Cape Town.
The damage to Sacco’s career had already been done when Valleywag posted her tweet, according to Wadhwa. There was no need to further it. However, it was and it resulted in her termination – which again – was done publicly. The Forbes writer added that what happened to Sacco wasn’t about fairness, it was about entertainment. And he is right.
So, it’s not just Justine Sacco who was wrong. The internet’s self-righteous lynch mob and opportunist marketers are to be blamed as well.
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