Monday, December 23, 2013

Advice to Justine Sacco about tweeting

The Internet is a funny thing.

Last week, no one other than her family, friends, and colleagues at IAC knew who the hell Justine Sacco, Senior Director Corporate Communications at IAC, was.

Then, on Friday, all twitter hell broke loose when Justine, at Heathrow Airport about to board a plane for South Africa, launched another one of those tweets heard round the world:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

If only Justine had stopped well before her 140 characters were up. Anywhere along the tweet will do:

“Going to Africa.”

Bland, boring, not IMHO twitter-worthy, putting it in the same category as 99% of all tweets, 98% of all txt msg’s, and 97% of all cell phone calls. (“I’m walking down the street? Where are you?”) So, bland and boring, but not apt to raise anyone’s hackles, Internet-wise.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS.”

This might have been a good place to stop, too.

Yes, a poor joke, in questionable taste, but what’s a poor joke, in questionable taste, among friends?

Surely Justine’s friends and family followers would just have rolled their eyes. There she goes again

In any case, stopping at AIDs was othing likely to cause an international incident.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding.”

This might also have been a good place to stop. Not so good as after “I don’t get AIDS”, but certainly – as we now know from the full tweet – something that could get worse.

The biggest problem with the “Just kidding” coda is that it’s clear that Justine is aware that someone might take offense with the Africa=AIDS sentiment of the tweet.

At this point, one might have hoped that something that Justine might have learned as Senior Director Corporate Communications at IAC would have clicked in, and she would have decided not to post this particular tweet without backing up to the “Going to Africa” bit.

But, no, Justine decided to keep calm and twitter on:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Ah, Justine.

Now it makes you look like you’re saying AIDS = black folks.

Justine is, perhaps, too young to remember the AIDS epidemic in this country, when we all learned to realize that AIDS knew no racial, class, or gender boundaries.

Anyway, by the time Justine landed in South Africa, a social media storm had starting blowing its mighty wind, and the previously incognito Justin Sacco was now being excoriated (and occasionally defended) across the whatever-sphere.

Justine herself was in the dark about all this, since there is still – blessedly – a ban on the use of cell phones on plane.

But while she was up in the air, her name was becoming mud, and Justine’s employer, IAC, was springing into action:

IAC, headed by Barry Diller, is the corporate parent of more than three dozen companies, including, The Daily Beast and The company, based in New York City, also owns, a dating site for African-Americans.

“This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.” (Source: NY Times.)

Outrageous, offensive, serious matter. Just what you want your employer to be saying about something you’ve done. And saying it publicly, to the whole wide world

Justine Sacco’s unfortunate tweet does not make her a racist. It just suggests that she’s not particularly bright about the power of social media, which is especially damning for someone who’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications for one of the world’s largest media companies.

At least in this one instance, she’s a dope, who, if she’d said something stupid, would have seen those stupid words disappear into the ether. Someone who heard them might have told her that it was a dumb/awful/base thing to say. And that would have been it.

But Justine put those words out there for all the world to jump on, calling her a racist, calling for her head.

I actually don’t think she should be fired (for one thing, I don’t believe she was on company time or a corporate account), which is not to say she won’t be.

Easier for IAC to just get rid of the problem, rather than, say, make her the internal poster child for educating new/young/’have thumb will tweet’ employees on what they should and shouldn’t be saying on Twitter, FB, their personal blogs, etc. Things that will make them look bad, and reflect poorly on the company while they’re at it.

The Boston Irish politico Martin Lomasney was justifiably famous for these words:

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

Maybe we need an update:

“Never tweet if you can IM; never IM if you can speak; never speak if you can think.”

Good luck, Justine Sacco.

You may well need it.

And for god’s sake, start thinking before you tweet.

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