When the Internet bands together for a common cause, you better hope that common cause isn't your head. Because the Internet will have it. On a platter. A woman named Justine Sacco had the misfortune to learn that very brutal lesson last night. Sacco, the head of communications for IAC, a company that owns various media sites, including Match.com, Vimeo, OKCupid, and Dictionary.com, had apparently never heard of Nir Rosen, another guy who destroyed himself with one tweet, when she tweeted:
Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!
And that's all it took for the Twittersphere to burst into a white hot flame that would spread quickly to all corners of the Internet.
Sacco posted the death tweet while in a stopover in London, on her way to Africa, possibly for work.
The furor began to pick up steam while she was on a plane with no Wifi connection, and blissfully unaware that while she was flying, her career was rapidly unraveling.
People were so outraged by the tweet that soon #WhenDoesJustineLand began trending worldwide as people eagerly awaited her landing in Cape Town, so that she could be confronted with the knowledge that her tweet had gone viral. Media outlets, including the New York Times, picked up the story.
Even her bosses at IAC responded to the fracas before Justine even had a clue her head was on the chopping block, calling the tweet an "outrageous, offensive" comment and promising to "take proper action."
All the while, Justine was snoozing on the plane or maybe watching a movie. Google even supposedly got into the act. A screenshot of the timeline of her flight at the top of her Google search page went around the Internet (this turned out to be fake).
A user over at BuzzFeed went through her tweets, picked out 16 of the most embarrassing, and did a post on it. It then became obvious that the AIDS tweet really came from her, as many of her other tweets were almost as offensive.
The inevitable memes began appearing. So did the fake Twitter account with mock tweets. Someone bought the domain JustineSacco.com and directed it to an AIDS charity.
As soon as Justine landed her plane, her tweet disappeared. Soon, her bio on Twitter, describing herself as a communications person for IAC, disappeared. Then her entire account disappeared.
Then her name disappeared from IAC's website.
What's pretty clear is that, for awhile at least, Justine Sacco was the Internet's number one enemy. And that she in all likelihood lost her job and will have a difficult time getting another.
As Warren Buffett said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."
Actually, in the age of social media, it takes about five seconds.
Justine would not be the first person to get in hot water over a social media post. Nor will she be the last. (Phil Robertson ruined himself the old-fashioned way -- with his mouth.)
But there is something rather infantile and vicious about the glee the Internet community takes in tearing someone down over a butthead comment. Some reports even say she has received death threats. I would ask everyone clamoring for her head if they'd ever said something stupid -- maybe after a few drinks, or with friends you trusted, or during an argument with your spouse. Now imagine that comment is recorded and tossed out to the Internet to be torn apart like an unarmed gladiator thrown into a ring of lions.
Once was a time when you did something stupid and your boss called you into the office and you got a warning. If you got fired, no one else even knew about it. Oh, how quaint those days seem now!
Editor's Note: Justine Sacco has reportedly been fired from IAC.
Do you think she deserved all of this?
Image via Twitter