Dec 26, 2013, 01:54PM

Was Justine Sacco the Victim of Bullying?

Being cruel in the name of fighting cruelty. 

Justine sacco twitter deleted after hope i dont get aids tweet.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

In the world of social media, a momentary lapse of judgment has the potential to ruin one’s life. Take the case of Justine Sacco whose stupid and racist remark cost her far more than she could have ever imagined.

Thanks to BuzzFeed, Sacco's tweet went viral and was around the world in a matter of minutes. She was in the air headed from London to South Africa when she posted it and more than likely had no idea the shitstorm that awaited her when she landed. In fact, the hash tag #HasJustineLandedYet accompanied nearly every response to her tweet as people around the world gleefully awaited the moment she landed on the tarmac and realized the repercussions of her action.

The worldwide reaction to Justine's tweet was extraordinary. Millions read it and many replied; they all reacted with anger and disgust. She was berated and lambasted and called a variety of names on Twitter. Not long after, she deleted her Twitter account, posted an apology on Facebook, and then dropped off the radar completely. I predicted that within 24 hours of the tweet, her employer, media giant IAC would fire her from her position as Corporate Communications Director, and they did, followed by a scathing statement criticizing her actions.

Sacco’s been ostracized because the entire world knows who she is, which got me thinking—was she the victim of bullying? Perhaps bullying is a strong word but take a step back and consider the definition of a bully. Generally it's a person who uses strength or power to intimidate another, and usually, the person who’s intimidated is the weaker one. In this case, the power was in the hands of the tweeters and Sacco was the weak one. Had she handled the criticism, she might’ve simply tweeted her apology and moved on. Instead, she caved to the intimidation and humiliation and did what may have been the only thing she could do and perhaps even what some people wanted—she turned tail and ran. Can anyone blame her?

Maybe you think I'm out of my mind. There’s no way Sacco was a victim of bullying and she brought this upon herself. Sure, but it doesn't mean she deserved to be publicly vilified in such a cruel manner. People say and do stupid things every day and yet most don't know about it. Sacco's tweet was the subject of every major news media outlet within hours. Once the mainstream media got a hold of it, she became a household name. Her story was the headline on nearly all the major news networks the following evening. If she had said this to a friend or co-worker, we wouldn't even be talking about it. So what's the crime? Is it what she said or the very public forum in which she said it?

Considering the popularity of the current anti-bullying movement, it seems a bit antithetical that Sacco would be drawn and quartered for the entire world to see—just because of something she said. I'm not defending her tweet, but the responses reminded me of a mob mentality—when people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors or follow certain trends. The responses to Sacco’s tweets made me think they were less about being personally offended and more about jumping on the bandwagon because it was the popular thing to do at the moment.

My good friend Max Weiss said something that resonated with me: Sometimes people can be awfully cruel in the name of fighting cruelty.

When being critical, we all need to take a step back and ask ourselves: are we making the situation better or worse? Are we doing the very thing we despise and condemn?

Sacco's crash-and-burn reminds me that none of us is immune to poor judgment. In fact, we are all one tweet or one Facebook post away from being in her shoes.

—Follow Jessica Clackum on Twitter: @JessicaClackum

  • Oh, bosh. Sacco was not a newcomer to Twitter. Got what she deserved.

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  • Hey thanks for reading it. Def. not a newcomer, has said idiotic things in the past but still...a reason to crucify?

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  • A reason to crucify? Yes. Her job is to speak to the public. If you can unintentially create a shitstorm of bad press for you and your company in 140 characters, you need to be a PR client, not a director. This is how the internet works. Personally, I only took offense to the fact that she didn't credit Sarah Silverman with the quote, but I'm glad she was fired if only to create an example for people who don't realize that what you say online can have consequences.

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  • Her job and her private life are separate whether we like it or not. She wasn't representing IAC when she said this. Yes there are repercussions if we do something that brings bad press to our employer and we pay for that. She paid. It irritated me that Donald Trump called for her to be fired. Who the hell does Donald Trump think HE is? God? Apparently. The only reason she was fired was because of the shitstorm that ensued after her tweet. IAC wanted to separate themselves from her and rightly so. However...it would've been interesting if IAC had made a statement clearly stating that their employees are free to act like idiots in their own time just not on IAC time, and be done with it. When a company FINALLY has the balls to do that, I will applaud. Her comment was asinine but but for we the public to imply that we have some moral obligation to berate, chastise and bully because "This is how the internet works" is in itself ridiculous.

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  • When you are a public figure, like it or not, your job and private life are not separate. Ask any politician or business leader caught in a sex or drugs scandal. Ask the Duck Dynasty guy. What gives the Sacco case the illusion of injustice is the effortlessness of the act. People type their 140-character message and send it out to the world and think they aren't harming anyone. But Twitter creates shitstorms sometimes. It's designed to speak to anyone who will listen, and sometimes offensive comments go viral. Would it have been bullying if she had spoken her tweet in a microphone to a crowd and the crowd booed?

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  • Justine Sacco was not a public figure. If I recall my mass comm law class correctly there are three types of public figures and prior to her tweet, she did not fit into any of those categories. In fact, most people had no idea who she was until that tweet. Once she was thrown into the spotlight, then she became a public figure. Comparing Phil Robertson to her makes no sense as he was a public figure long before his tweet because of his presence on a very well-known reality. That show thrusts him into the spotlight as a sort of celebrity. You said that people type out their message to the world on Twitter and think they aren't harming anyone. So my question is...who did Justine Sacco harm other than herself? Nobody.

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  • Sacco should've known better. Of course, in today's world, she'll have new job in three weeks and then write a best-seller about being a reformed Twitter devotee.

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  • Demian implies that Sacco's Tweet was a ripoff of a joke by Sarah Silverman. If that were so, wouldn't it mean that she was making fun of racism?

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