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December 23, 2013 8:45 AM Justine Sacco Sacked

By Ryan Cooper

It was about two and a half years ago that I finished up my Peace Corps service, got on a plane in Johannesburg and flew to Durango, Colorado, via stops in Dubai, Los Angeles and Denver. (Total travel time: about 40 hours.) The Dubai-LA leg was 16 hours nonstop, and the geography works out such that the shortest route is straight over the top of the Earth, right past the North Pole.

That bizarre, alienating experience came to mind thinking about Justine Sacco, incompetent Tweeter du jour, who sparked off a tremendous internet firestorm when she tweeted just before getting on a long international flight: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She’s since been fired:

The apology came a day after IAC said it had fired Sacco. “There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally,” InterActive Corp said in a statement, according to ABC News. “We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core.”
What appears to be Justine Sacco’s Facebook profile is now filled with a quick succession of messages from Sacco, who appears to be very distraught and in apparent disbelief at how one message in a social network has led her life to unravel.

The profile has been taken down, but the Slate piece has screengrabs if you’re curious.

Obviously Sacco’s callously racist tweet was indefensible. But I can’t help but feel a tiny bit sympathetic for the woman. Whether she deserved to be fired or not for harboring such sentiments, the controversy is indicative of the flighty and unpredictable nature of social media criticism—most of the reason her tweet got as much attention as it did was because she inexplicably posted it right before getting on an international flight. Normally, when someone in a sensitive position says something horrible (a common occurrence), they delete it minutes or seconds later. The very fact that the tweet continued to exist, piling up retweets and favorites by the tens of thousands, and the gleeful knowledge that a world of pain was awaiting some idiot PR flack, exponentially increased the story’s viral potential. If that hadn’t been the case, it’s quite probable we never would have heard about it at all.

Again, one probably wealthy white person getting the boot for being objectively horrible is no tragedy, especially not compared to, say, an 18 percent HIV infection rate. I just hope that people don’t think this represents much of a victory over anything. Because just today I see that America’s most systematically racist police chief (a title for which there is stiff competition indeed) is getting a cush job at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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