If you're a public relations expert, you know that the internet is forever and you can't control what you put out there. Once it's out, it's out. You can delete what you've said, but if anyone has picked it up, it's too late.
Former PR executive, Justine Sacco found this out the hard way when she tweeted something racist and then stepped on a plane, without internet access for 11 hours. By the time she landed at her vacation destination, she'd been fired.
I agree with her boss's decision, but I disagree with how the situation came to play. When the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet started trending, it meant that thousands of people literally jumped on the bandwagon to condemn and harass this woman.
Her original tweet was, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" It was stupid, insensitive and showed a surprising lack of understanding as to how the internet works. However, people actually showed up at the airport to take pictures of her.
This is bullying, pure and simple. And creepy as all get out. People who are participating should remember that they are attempting to harm someone they don't know. And why? For many of them, I don't think it's because they sincerely believe that she's a bad person who shouldn't have a position of authority in a company, but because all the cool kids are doing it.
What she did was disgusting, but her virtual takedown became scary when people started physically stalking her.
Parody accounts have been started. (I'm purposely not linking to them, because I don't want the writers, who are nothing more than bullies, to get free publicity.) People have looked into her private life. And, while the online fury will no doubt subside shortly and she has apologized, Ms.Sacco's life will never be the same.
I agree with firing her. But, I don't agree with how people went about it. If you find something that so offends you that you think the person should not be able to represent a company, as a PR person does, the proper thing to do is to privately notify her company and let them deal with it.
Sacco should lose her job, not for the statement, but because it indicates that she has no clue how PR works, and that's her job. If she was an accountant, I'd oppose her firing.
You don't track someone to the airport. You don't set out to take people down. You go to the person who has authority over them and address it.
Now, does that mean you should be silent on the internet about everything going on? Of course not. Express your opinion. A tweet saying, "Wow! Really disagree with this!" is a far different thing than saying she should "face a hundred rapists" or "getting shot would not be out of the realm of possibility, not by me but she has ZERO to contribute to the human race."
What makes people think that it's okay to bully someone on the internet? People who are normally nice face to face, suddenly think it's okay to virtually bully someone, and feel proud for joining in a group. Nice that we've all progressed so far in society that we're collectively acting like 7th graders.
I'm sure many of the people who were tracking her flight and talking about her have said stupid things in their lives. I imagine if I combed some of their twitter feeds, I'd probably be able to pull up something racist, sexist or otherwise awful that they've said.
So, my question is to all these people, are you happy now? You've shown that you can bring a stranger down, make her fear for her life, and ruin her reputation. The next time someone says something on the internet that you find repulsive, stop and think if any of your statements could ever be used against you, and whether you could withstand this type of scrutiny. If you wouldn't, then reconsider taking in a vindictive and threatening social media mob.
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