One tweet can ruin a life. In the case of Justine Sacco, all it took was being associated with a company that employed her as a communications professional and a “dumb tweet”. She was not the first person to cause a controversy due to a social media comment and she won’t be the last. While many people now know that they cannot disassociate their social media activity from their representation of their employer, certain views and topics can generate massive amounts of controversy and for those unprepared, are just a tweet away from ruining their professional career and creating a viral event where they can unfortunately become the victim of a virtual dog pile.
The New York Times article “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” gives a vivid example of the details to which the extent of Twitter controversy can ruin someone’s life. What is mentioned in the article that interested me was the nature of social media as a spectacle. Social media is for socializing and this fact is especially apparent when a controversy captures “Twitterverse” and everyone piles on to share their opinion, to glean their piece of attention, to socialize and feel like they are part of the joke or a collective. Of course, when the spectacle grows to the size of Justine Sacco’s controversial tweet the concept of the socializing does gain an aspect of theatre. People’s lives can become a toy for the publics amusement. Thrown in the dirt and then dropped and forgotten. Social media makes it easy to socialize but hard to emphasize. I’m not going to justify Sacco’s tweet as missing context or being misunderstood but there might be some human element of mistaken judgement or a lack of foresight in the creation of her tweet. You can’t justifiably blame someone and ruin their life over a mistake like that but the internet as a whole, can and oftentimes, will. Social media is a great tool but users should always remember the fickle nature of it and be mindful of what they say and how it can be interpreted.