We have written a number of blogs about the dos and don’ts of social media, but a tweet by a (former) US-based PR executive at the end of 2013 that set off a social media lynch mob made me think about this once again.
Justine Sacco was not so long ago Communications Director for internet company InterActive Corp, which represents companies such as Vimeo, OkCupid, and Dictionary.com. That was until she mindlessly tweeted (immediately before boarding a flight) “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Almost instantly she was one of the most hated people in the world with #JustineSacco and #HasJustineLandedYet trending on Twitter worldwide while she was blissfully unaware mid flight. During the time that she was flying from the US to South Africa such commotion was made online that upon arrival she was greeted by media and the aforementioned virtual lynch mob and promptly cancelled her accounts. It was too late, since her tweet blew up in her face, her name was tweeted more than 30,000 times and the hashtag almost 100,000 times.
In a move nothing short of genius, quick thinking charity Aid for Africa secured the domain name www.justinesacco.com and redirected it to their fundraising website, successfully capturing those turning to Google for more information.
Besides the obvious insanely stupid lapse in judgment from someone who spends their day ensuring the reputations of major corporations aren’t tarnished, this raises a number of interesting points – and subsequent lessons – that could be debated for hours at a dinner party.
Firstly, it would be remiss of anyone to say Sacco isn’t a fool for doing what she did. But one must also remember the age-old saying ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. I know that in the heat of the moment I have said some things that I don’t believe and regret the second I start the first syllable. So let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly before we know the entire story, as context is an interesting beast. The flip side being that her previous tweets (to a measly 200 followers) included references to masturbation, rape and multiple profanities. So this, as it turns out, wasn’t a one-off.
Secondly, why has the world all of a sudden become digital law enforcement? People like to hide behind their avatar as they know they can say what they want and not really have to follow through. I know people who spend the majority of their time ‘liking’ Facebook posts, but have no idea what is really happening in that person’s actual life. Cyber bullying continues to rear its ugly head; I would love to know the statistics of how many virtual vigilantes have children, nephews, nieces, brothers or sisters, who have made an individual feel horrible but have done nothing about it.
Thirdly, don’t be an idiot on social media. The Internet doesn’t miss a beat and everything goes somewhere. If in doubt, don’t do it. If there is too much alcohol involved, DON’T DO IT. In PR we talk about our personal brands and it should be the same for everyone. Protect it with all you have as you don’t know when any damage done will come back to bite you. Put simply, don’t say or do anything you know you may one day regret – or at the very least don’t want your mother or kids to see.
Fourthly, I am a big believer in ‘innocent until proven guilty’. At the time, did anyone really know for sure that the post wasn’t a practical joke by someone else? What if Sacco’s account was hacked? The end result doesn’t really matter because Sacco was fired from her job (apparently mid-air) and dragged over hot coals by everyone and anyone who could piece 140 characters together.
Finally, AIDS is still a major issue and is no laughing matter. As is suicide, death, rape, animal cruelty, bullying, violence, sickness, equal rights…the list goes on. It’s no laughing matter, especially on social media. Also, instead of joining the digital lynch mob, why not make a difference. Tell your nephew or son that it is polite to open a door for a woman, or donate your coffee money one week to a charity, or call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while to see how they are. Less bandwagon jumping and more positive good.