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Inner McCarthyism on Twitter

February 14, 2015

TLDR: I’m feeling kindof scared to post this (but am going to do so anyway).

The following is a response to a New York Times article I recently read featuring Justine Sacco, a lengthy overview on the topic of the not-so recent phenomenon of public shaming that is currently ongoing in social media and online media’s mis-communications. As a tail-end to the NYT article, there’s also a apologetic followup from the man who outed her on Gawker.


In brief, my two cents: I understand that we always live in fear of the internet mob justice squad. Things we say and share online can be taken out of context, and we speak our thoughts in a false sense of security, without considering how it could affects others in conversations, especially topics and information that is meant to convey satire or a brief outlet for spitefulness.

Everyone went through the experience of high school or if not, then the experience of adolescence and the insecurities. Public shaming and bullying is a magnifier of our internal McCarthyism. Suffering is felt by everyone, it’s not unique. I don’t know why we always think of ourselves as ‘us’ versus ‘them. I don’t know why we continue to perpetuate this public shaming behaviour as mentioned in the article beyond adolescence.

The following excerpt below is what I felt was the most poignant and succinct summary of the article. In it’s entirety, the information was digestable from a reader’s standpoint (tidbit: I dislike article meta-noted that feature the time duration of “how long it will take you read this article if you are not a speed reader, based on the number of words versus taking a considerable amount of time to give weight to the concepts, facts, and arguments being presented).

(excerpt from the original New York Times article featuring Justine Sacco, a lengthy overview on the topic of the not-so recent phenomenon of public shaming that is currently ongoing in social media and online media’s mis-communications)

“It’s possible that Sacco’s fate would have been different had an anonymous tip not led a writer named Sam Biddle to the offending tweet. Biddle was then the editor of Valleywag, Gawker Media’s tech-industry blog. He retweeted it to his 15,000 followers and eventually posted it on Valleywag, accompanied by the headline, “And Now, a Funny Holiday Joke From IAC’s P.R. Boss.”

In January 2014, I received an email from Biddle, explaining his reasoning. “The fact that she was a P.R. chief made it delicious,” he wrote. “It’s satisfying to be able to say, ‘O.K., let’s make a racist tweet by a senior IAC employee count this time.’ And it did. I’d do it again.” Biddle said he was surprised to see how quickly her life was upended, however. “I never wake up and hope I [get someone fired] that day — and certainly never hope to ruin anyone’s life.” Still, he ended his email by saying that he had a feeling she’d be “fine eventually, if not already.”

He added: “Everyone’s attention span is so short. They’ll be mad about something new today.”

Four months after we first met, Justine Sacco made good on her promise. We met for lunch at a French bistro downtown. I told her what Biddle had said — about how she was probably fine now. I was sure he wasn’t being deliberately glib, but like everyone who participates in mass online destruction, uninterested in learning that it comes with a cost.

“Well, I’m not fine yet,” Sacco said to me. “I had a great career, and I loved my job, and it was taken away from me, and there was a lot of glory in that. Everybody else was very happy about that.”

As a tail-end to the NYT article, there’s also a apologetic followup from the man who outed her on Gawker.

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