Does Twitter have the right to ruin your life? Jon Ronson | Comment is Free
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Does Twitter have the right to ruin your life? Jon Ronson | Comment is Free

Does Twitter have the right to ruin your life? In December 2013 a New York City PR woman
called Justine Sacco was at Heathrow Airport when she tweeted this very ill-advised joke
to her 170 Twitter followers. Justine chuckled to herself, pressed send,
and wandered around the airport for half-an-hour, sporadically checking Twitter. She got nothing. She boarded the plane. It
was an 11-hour flight. When it landed she turned on her phone. Straight
away there was this text: ‘I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.’ Justine looked at it, baffled. Then another text
from her best friend, Hannah. “You need to call me immediately. You are the worldwide
number one trending topic on Twitter.” There were the genuinely concerned, the idly
curious, the celebrities, her employers, the misogynists… a lot of mysogynists… Her complete ignorance of her predicament
for those 11 hours lent the episode dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc. The hashtag
began to trend worldwide. And then Justine did land. And a Twitter user
was there to take her photograph. I could understand why some people found the
tweet offensive. But it wasn’t intended to be racist. As she told me when I met her
a few weeks later she was trying to make fun of white privilege. She said: “Living in
America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the third
world. I was making fun of that bubble.” Justine was fired. When I met her she seemed
deeply confused and upset. She said she had a great career and she loved her job and it was taken away from her and everybody else was very happy about that. She wasn’t sleeping. She was waking up in
the middle of the night forgetting where she was. She had no schedule. No purpose. Some people will feel Justine deserved everything
she got. On Twitter we like to see ourselves as the hitherto silenced underdog cutting
down the privileged elite. Actually, Justine wasn’t especially privileged.
But still, that’s how we like to see ourselves. But it’s not true. On social media, we have
the power now. We have the power to cast people out into the wilderness, for workplace transgressions
– like the journalist Jonah Lehrer who faked Bob Dylan quotes in a book and when he tried
to apologise and ask for a second chance the response was trenchant. And then there was Hank, who was overheard
whispering a sexist joke to a co-worker at a conference. The woman in front tweeted their
picture. Hank was fired. Then the woman – Adria – was
fired – and subjected to a horrific online harassment campaign – death threats and
rape threats and racist insults. She still hasn’t got a new job and the harassment
campaign continues to this day. Please don’t underestimate how profoundly
traumatising it is to be socially shunned in these ways, to be defined by a mistake,
instead of having your mistake put into a wider human context. We’ve always had some influence over the
justice system, but for the first time in 180 years – since the stocks and the pillory
were outlawed – we have the power to determine the severity of some people’s punishments. And so we have to think about what level of
mercilessness we feel comfortable with. Justine is fine now. The trauma lasted a year.
So, is a year the right length? Less? More? Put a figure on it. How merciless do we want
to be?

About James Carlton

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46 thoughts on “Does Twitter have the right to ruin your life? Jon Ronson | Comment is Free

  1. In my opinion Richards got what was coming to her. She tried to turn someone into a folk devil because they made a joke she didn't like. I doubt she flinched when the man was fired, so why shouldn't she be. Public shaming isn't good but when it happens to someone who is actively trying to do it someone else in such a controlling way, I have no sympathy.

  2. I thought this was going to be about sending nudes to people but this woman deserved everything she got and maybe more

  3. Which is why I do not have an account with Facebook or Twitter. And I despise Google for forcing people to use Google+ (which I completely avoid using.)

  4. Okay, this is the second time I saw you blaming Twitter for people's mistakes. People should finally be aware of the simple fact that when you're sharing something on Twitter, you're sharing it to WHOLE WORLD. Does she deserve this? Yeah, why not. Can she make the same joke in front of millions of Africans? Because that's EXACTLY what she did when she wrote that tweet.

  5. Social responsibility if she should know before she tweets
    Shes a dickhead for puting that tweet life about bing sorry because if she was she would have never sent it in the first place

  6. I don't understand why so many people refuse to accept her apologies.
    If she was a racist through and through or a pedophile rapist – ok, I would totally understand this reaction.
    But she's not an utterly evil human being and that kind of bullying is able to put people into suicide.
    This treatment bears no relation to what she's done – making a shitty joke.
    Nothing more and nothing less. Everybody has said something stupid before.

  7. What moron still uses Twitter or Facebook? So Old School, and more harmful than good. Absolutely no social or personal benefits. Hate to say it, but these folks should have known better.

  8. Yes and no. Depends on which side you are, or how thick your 'skin' is.
    The bottom line: Web 2.0 is just too intrunsive. Remember, folks: If you don't pay for a service, then YOU are the product. Thus, Justine was a nice new trend product for more $ Twitter advertisers. Job done; in a brave new world.

  9. When your computer or smart phone is connected to the internet every other computer and smart phone that is connected to the internet is open to each other. Be careful, very, very careful when you are on line – even if you don't use Twitter.

  10. You can not justify comments like that! Take the racism out of it for a second, the statement that you would catch AIDS by just going to Africa, ill advised, bad humour or what ever you want to call it, is culturally and ethically unacceptable. The stigma surrounding AIDS has only JUST started to go now. There are grannies still in some places that think that you can catch this by touching somebody or drinking out of the same cup. There are some things you just do not joke about. She was intelligent enough it seems to have a job that allowed her to travel, she should be intelligent enough to know not to do that. I have to take Katie Hopkin's view on this. If you are completely naive to the powers of the internet and social media, don't use it! People do though, because they want to be liked, they want to be popular, they want to be funny…well you have to take the good with the bad.  

  11. We live in a sensitive world, millions are on the bottom of society, including myself so we expect people to let us live without having to be reminded of the bad things around us. Joking about sensitive subjects tells me the person is living good enough to have time to bully others. I don't have time, I work hard. Think before you post.

  12. if somebody with a penis wrote that on twitter(and was met with same response) there wouldn't be a paid advert with some guy defending that person.

    the video makes it look like this dude is trying to get her affection.
    basically if you reinforce the idea that only males should have to suffer the consequences of their actions because everyone else is "special" you will win a political correctness award

    why not instead campaign for a law that prevents somebody being fired for saying shit online.
    an organisation is not a person so that would not limit a persons freedom.
    but your enthusiasm will dissipate as soon as they say something you don't like.

    the think that prevents most people in the first world from getting aids is law enforcement and knowledge rape is illegal preventing most rapes and access to medical professionals. it has piss all to do with race, gender or sexuality.

    unless you shag different people all the time in which case you increase your odds of getting any std

  13. Wait…rewind toooo. 1:06. Misogynists? Miss.Badassy was completely justified in her comment. Ellie Mac's comment was kinda funny. Justine was being fairly racist. Now you could say it was a joke. I agree, and jokes shouldn't ruin your life. But you do also have to accept the responsibility that you WILL be criticized based on those jokes. I fail to see how Sulbha Arora's comment was misogynistic by any means.

    Now she shouldn't have been fired. Primarily because I don't think your actions on social media should have a damn thing to do with real life. But at 2:04 I get really confused. What REALLY happened to her that was TANGIBLE? She lost her job and her friends and family might take the piss for a couple months. She had her picture taken by a stalker, without her permission. Annnd, that's about it.

    3:01 Harassment? First of all she shouldn't have been fired. If you shouldn't be fired for making a sexual joke then you shouldn't be fired for being a bitch about it. Second of all you make it sound like it was a united effort by the internet as a whole to be a sack of dicks to her. It wasn't. It was the collection of what happens when you do a horrible thing to someone else and some of these ''retributions'' as I'm sure they view themselves, take it too far. We need to make a distinction between genuine criticism of idea's and actions and the act of finding someone's personal information through doxxing. 

    Secondly at 3:09, choosing not to hire her isn't sexism. It is either a personal descision of ''I don't like what she did, so I'll choose not to hire her'' or it is a professional decision of ''I don't think having someone who did what she did would give a good reputation of our business'' Adria didn't speak out against sexism. She spoke out against an impolite joke between friends.
     And to address the end of the video, I didn't partake in that twitter campaign. But there are different people involved in hashtags and you just CAN'T lump them together. There are those who will critique actions and those who will take to reddit and 4chan to doxx people. And those are different people. I have great distaste for the one who took her photograph but I also have no qualms with those who argued that what she said was offensive. 

  14. absolutely on point. short messages are open to interpretation depending upon someone's system of reference. so mediums like twitter are particularly dangerous because what you want to express may not be conveyed in the 140 character limit. a lot of people living in the power structure of life are looking for an opportunity to tear someone down enjoying every minute of it. tyranny of the masses at its best. people are more comfortable being scornful through these mediums. but I am aware everything you say or do on the net is public whether shared publicly or not. so I always try to have a constructive discourse in open forum.

  15. The danger of social media like Twitter is that people feel free to say whatever they like – to me, it's not a matter of being merciful or merciless, but simply a way to voice our innermost thoughts & opinions regardless of how hurtful &, possibly, evil they may be.

  16. this fucking thing just came up between my videos really pissed me off. she ruined her own life if shes stupid enough to not think about what her comment was gonna be perceived of. twitter did not ruin her life she ruined her own life. i hate all social networking but if your stupid and thrive on peoples feed back then you get what you deserve. this guy in this video has really annoyed me. hes such a retarded individual. what your saying is that that its ok to make jokes about the spoilt nature of white people and use something as horrific as aids that kills many people daily. are you saying that its ok to enter any illness into a comment and fuck the people who suffer from these they should get the context and just get on with it. what ever this person gets then its all due as she has given no thought about who she may have offended. really pissed me off and makes me want to complain to whoever is the news commisioner as this is a joke that a national paper is trying to blame a social network rather than the idiot who posted it. in your retarded logic if someone writes an offensive story its not there fault its the papers fault as it was there to be written on. its so sad that stupid people have these positions in society

  17. The problem with Twitter is that the majority of discourse is guided by teenagers with poor impulse control, little understanding of social context and worst of all, think that their subjective value system is one the whole world should abide by (and be punished if they don't).

  18. When Twitter first began to make the news perhaps 7 years ago I took a look at it.  I didn't like the look of it, didn't make an account and have not since. It is too easy for the self righteous and the outrageists to jump on a badly conceived or just badly worded posting. The three people you quoted are probably just the tip of the iceberg of those who have been persecuted for such trivia.  I could also name an author of a very popular web comic. 

  19. "The misogynists"

    -A meme obviously meant as a joke
    -Someone calling someone a bitch for making a foul comment
    -Someone saying that what she said is here forever
    -Someone parodying her comment
    -Someone making a joke in regards to her comment
    -Someone recognising that this may end her career
    -Two people saying that there's a hashtag
    -Someone calling her dumb for making a stupid comment

    Do social justice warriors and feminists ever actually use "misogynist" in the right context or is it just a buzzword that they screech when it suits them?

  20. so many humans seem incapable of grasping self-reflexive or ambiguous humour. Such vague or elliptical remarks have a small audience and easily disintegrate when taken out of their very tenuous context, having an almost incorporeal link to what is online, an arbitrary consensus of opinion based on buggerall insight.

  21. Seriously, if there wasn't any clear message in the original tweet about how she was trying to be sarcastic to highlight white privilege, how could the general public know it for what it was and not just take it as a racist message? In a country where race is a major issue, with police brutality and riots, the way she tried to do what she wanted to do was inconsiderate and just plain rude. If it was on her facebook page, closed to her friends and family who know her and would probably ask before pointing fingers, that's one thing. But doing it in public, without context, and expecting strangers to be nice to her? That's just naive. Of course ideally people would be nice and ask before judging, but that's not the reality we live in. She should've put some hashtags in that original tweet, or maybe write it as a quote and put White Privilege as the author.

  22. She made a stupid comment- who hasn't? Does she deserve the ignominy of this? This is a prime example of Jon Ronsons book 'So You've Been Publicly Shamed?'. Most of the subjects in his book are women. The men in the book lose jobs and some social life. The women have the same but with threats of rape and murder. It's misogyny plain and simple.

  23. You can clearly see psychological and sociological phenomena in the mass cyber-bullying of Justine Sacco: bandwagon effect, snowball effect, communal reinforcement, projection, projective identification, group think, conformity, peer pressure, etc

  24. This video is a parody, right? He talks like he doesn't know what she did. This Ronson clown is your typical apologist for racism and makes himself look like an unqualified fool. He was so busy trying to defend Sacco's indefensible behavior he has no clue how stupid he's making himself look. His brainless sympathy for her might sound good to himself but it sounds like an unthinking bigot to everyone else. Take a look at this geek. Bet he's hoping to simp his way to some easy pity-sex from her.
    "I can understand why some people found the tweet offensive." Tens of thousands of people around the world is not "some." And given his non-stop defense of her, I doubt that he understands anything! Sacco has blamed "political correctness" for her predicament. At NO point has she EVER taken the blame and accepted responsibility. In every instance she's spoken on this subject she's ALWAYS blamed everyone else. She meant what she said exactly the way she said. You said it Justine, now own it. And no amount of sycophants lying on your behalf will ever change that.

  25. And to answer Ronson's insipid "question," Twitter didn't ruin Sac-o-crap's life, she did that all on her own.
    Glad I could clear that up for him. Hope he didn't spend too long trying to get her to go out with him.

  26. Cyberbulying is a criminal offense and so is vigilantism, Justine Sacco should have sued Twitter and those who bullied her.

  27. she can say what she wants. because she has constitutional rights of freedom of speech. no matter how insensitive it might be.

  28. hank found another job soon after he was fired. no one would hire adria richards becos she was supposed to be PR and she came across as a hypersensitive entitled troublemaker. who would ever hire her as pr again ?

  29. Of course not. But, in the short time I was with Twitter, I was targeted by this mad group who were protesting about a dam being built in Brazil.; I was receiving many Twitters from people I didn't know – and didn't want to know. I've heard enough stories about people receiving nasty Twitters – which is why I don't sign up with Twitter – because I don't need that sort of stress.

  30. Only if you're right wing and disagree with group think .

    If you're right wing then it becomes ok because the person is less than human to the hordes of indoctrinated fan peoples.

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