Justine Sacco wasn’t the biggest problem about her Twitter storm UPDATE

Over at Big Think, I argued that Sacco’s apparent racism – or rather, her racist Tweet – was probably the least worrying part of her whole “Twitter storm”. What worried me and continues to worry me are our default responses to people and how we caricature, so we can attack, convey pure bile, and do little to actually advance cause or thought.

I didn’t see evidence of rape or death threats at Sacco, though I did look. If you know of any, please let me know below.

I’d like to see more silence than noise online, especially when something makes us angry. That default to convey that anger publicly should be considered: you don’t get a free pass to say and do what you like just because you’re justifiably angry: I argued this about the Elan Gale case. We should stop this being our default and, if there’s a competition for response, it shouldn’t be about who’s the nastiest or most “hardcore”: it should be who’s the smartest and most effective in combating the mindset causing you (justifiable) anger.

I would be terrified of being the target of a Twitter storm: we mess up in various ways and there’s no one to actually shut off or calm down the masses of the moral march. Even if you said something stupid or idiotic, the response is disproportional as you are one person and they are legion. This is inherently unfair. And that’s another reason I worry.

Updated: Thanks to commenter “oolon” below for links showing threats.

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  1. says

    Some nasty tweets caught by @MAMelby / Sinmantyx on her blog ->

    I would be terrified of being the target of a Twitter storm

    Just apologise, properly without a hint of notpology… Seems to me most storms occur because people are incapable of either apologising or if they try they make a total hash of it and say “if you were offended”. It’s still often unpleasant but it goes a long way to defuse the anger.

    • says

      Seriously – that wasn’t the half of it. I went through to put a bunch of accounts on the Bot; and had to quit at some point because it was making me feel uncomfortable reading all that shit.

      I can only imagine what it may have felt like for Justine.

      And yes, this does have to do with her gender. This would not happen to a man.

      Because she is an affluent white woman; there is this license to be awful due to the concept that the mob is “punching up”, but at the same time, because she is a woman, there is a deep seeded social imperative to humiliate her and put her in her place.

      FFS there were people out-and-out calling for rape to re-establish the male-female social order; fucking pieces of shit.

      Bringing her to task for being so flippant – that was honestly amusing. But yeah, apparently we can’t do that without violent rapist assholes showing up and being violent rapist assholes.

  2. says

    I thought the whole incident was completely overblown. Yeah, it was an insensitive, inappropriate tweet. I don’t think people should be punished for that though. Though I have noticed I am far less offended by things than most others. I also find it strange that there are many atheists that are quick to point out that offence isn’t a crime when it comes to religion but don’t say the same thing in other situations, such as this one.

    What was especially surprising was that she was a “top PR person.” Of all people, she should have known better. But to me, it’s a barely important post that would’ve had little to no impact on anything and pales in comparison to what a number of people with power and influence say with impunity.

  3. says

    Having followed this story from its initial moments through the night and monitoring it in a manner that is slightly wider than the net you cast or the blog monitoring for “rape culture” did – it helps if people realize that this received international attention, with over 100k tweets about it. Finding three or four that are reprehensible in all that chatter/conversation about an issue seems mild, if not negligible by all standards. Those people should be called out, but it does nothing to argue against a public shaming for this behavior. Again – they also might be *Jokes* and not indicative of the user’s real feelings. That idea seems lost on people apparently defending a position. Joking about AIDS which kills people is not okay but just a joke while joking about Rape is beyond the pale. That seems very reductive and at times lazy. Don’t judge Justine by a tasteless comment but judge the others.

    Also the “people taking photos” amounts to one or two “citizen journalists” tweeting & talking to her in the airport. Given the worldwide attention it garnered and the fact that her father is a billionaire from South Africa, this also seems a small price to pay and doesn’t seem very confrontational to the average person who has caused such a stir. Also: publishing her cell phone #, making comments on her IG photos, or investigating all

    Quoting the Elan Gale hoax/PR stunt as people being “hateful to each other, publicly online;” was an extremely poor choice. There is a very minor “update” to a rather flawed argument when someone was obviously using the forum to stoke exactly what you are calling against, supposedly. With that situation, one could apply the “slacktivism” moniker – while the idea that they were all “cheering” by measuring simply the anecdotal evidence of tweets/retweets while not measuring whether people were critical of it, is intellectually indefensible. Around this incident, while seeing support – I saw people critical, and I suspected it was a ruse from the beginning & ignored all the shares that crossed my feeds (which were considerable). In fact aside from your piece, I’ve not read anything else about it, except that it was a hoax. Many may have just supported the initial idea, and didn’t buy into the whole “eat a dick” scenario which happened later & didn’t accompany every share/tweet/mention or even know that it was a part of it.

    Also you seem to focus almost solely on the tweets TO her, while blithely ignoring or not bothering to research the breakdown of tweets. MORE tweets were sent using the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet (and then less so: #JustineDisappearedFasterThan) and was a communal source of humor & frivolity, which is in itself cathartic. It became AN ONLINE EVENT shared by millions I’d assume. Having monitored it so closely — and seeing it happen both in real-time, but then studying the data behind it. None of what you suppose or purport to happen on a grand scale actually did.

    In fact, what was surprising was how few apologists there were for her. For there were people policing them as well. I’m currently writing a piece on this with screenshots, data relevant to it – albeit crude, for we’ve not actually developed a way to accurately measure “sentiment” — and therein is the rub. For when people look at the phenomenon & then report on it anecdotally it will seem as if the big bad world of the web seized upon a rather privileged person with a high profile job as senior director of corporate communications for IAC should not be treated lightly for making such a public joke.

    I have a very wicked sense of humor, very dark, make jokes about horrible things all the time. “Too Soon?” is one of my favorite phrases. So I’m not saying that there isn’t some merit to your point, however – with the Duck Dynasty outrage which I also followed, I saw gay people defending them – with responses like: FAGGOT, etc… but the bulk were ones of support for her being so open-minded about someone who is so close-minded from like-minded bigots full of religious zeal & first amendment perversions.

    The real travesty here is that Justine Sacco will probably not see all the 100k tweets that were sent about her, her account & the tweet were probably deleted (although I’m of the mind that Twitter suspended her, so that the next time she logged in the account was terminated). She could go online of course & see them, however to wade through everyone, no matter how vile, seems highly unlikely. As to the rape culture and jokes – this has been pointed out to Twitter, and they recently just opened women up to even more harassment & stalking, then quickly reversed it. Their current system is awful, and actually promotes/rewards the behavior you protest. However, creating such a system that is scalable for hundreds of millions of users is problematic and very complex. For just as the hive mentality can lead to mob justice, allowing them to punish with a click is likewise a weapon.

    So the problem (IMO) doesn’t lie with the people voicing their opinion, although mob mentality can be problematic – this is not the case to make that point, obviously 100k+ tweets about something touched a collective nerve. Just as the Arab Spring was started from tweets and shared sentiments around Twitter and branched out from there. It is very popular to think that people are rude/crude and when banded together are a menace. Yet the only way peaceful revolutions have succeeded is through this type of action. Perhaps Justine, born in South Africa, will have a moment of clarity because of this, the awareness & money raised by coopting her name as a url to do that, and the discussion of a disease far from over either in Africa or America (where it disproportionately affects brown/black people at alarming levels) is a Christmas Miracle. Since so often it is forgotten or thought to be cured.

    The conversation for all it seemed was not FOR her, but about her. It was had/viewed by millions (after reaching MSM) and if that damaged her reputation or makes her unemployable – she could always consider going into the non-profit world, as we love nothing as much as a scandal as the trope that each of us deserves redemption, thanks to thousands of years of religious influence. Almost as much as we love tearing down people or taking them down a peg when they become TOO BIG. Using this episode to bring wider attention to it, and making such ‘cavalier’ jokes less appealing for her, and actually doing some good in its wake might be just what she needs to live a life more meaningful. If nothing else it was a vital lesson to a communications director on the power of message & intent.

  4. says

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