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One Tweet to a Life in Hell – The Justine Sacco Affair

Some people are scared to use social media. It seems too “Wild Wild West” to them. Some of those people are fearful of learning how to do it, some are scared to make a big mistake, and some wish for a simpler time when the definition of “friend” was narrower and “in the flesh.”

As an extrovert, I’ve found my stride in life, so to speak, on social media. The last six years have found me starting a tee company, making many life-long friends, and changing careers. I enjoy expressing myself, learning, having discussions, and entertaining myself on a daily basis.

Someday, I am bound to make a big mistake. I will offend the world at large with an inappropriate photo or tweet. I don’t think this will ever happen, but I should never say “never.” If or when it happens, I hope to have friends coming to my defense. I hope it’s something I can recover from. I hope my family doesn’t bear the brunt. Mostly, I really, really hope it never happens.

I don’t mean to say our lives are not in our control; I firmly believe we are in control of our destiny.

So what happened to Justine Sacco? A PR pro for IAC, she presented the social media community its latest scandal with her insensitive tweet about Africa. While on a plane to said continent, the tweet was blowing up worldwide and she likely knew nothing of it until she landed. Upon disembarking, if her phone was able to grab a cell tower or some wifi, she was undoubtedly slammed with tweets, emails, texts, voicemails, Facebook messages and more. That must have been a bit jarring for her. IAC quickly sacked her.

What should we make of this affair? I always like to dial down to the foundation, to the simplest and most elementary lesson to be learned. This is to say, “What should we do FIRST?” In this case, it’s “BE NICE.” Sorry to keep beating this dead horse, but that’s the first thing we all need to know.

Guys, Justine’s situation is a complicated issue. In reading the countless articles on the affair, I’ve seen the right wing attack the left wing. I’ve seen people make this an age issue, a gender issue, an unemployment issue (how can SHE have a job while I’m unemployed), a race issue, a white guilt issue, and more. You name it; everyone has an angle on this, a prism through which they judge her.

However, if Justine had just remembered rule number one – be nice to others – this would have never happened to her. So what seems complicated is actually quite simple. Be nice!

Through the millennia, since the very advent of the spoken word, we humans have harbored thoughts that we have chosen not to verbally articulate. Justine’s AIDS tweet is the latest lesson on why that’s the case. As I state in the interview I recently did with Mark Reardon on KMOX, most of us have told an offensive joke or two. Some of us have been to comedy clubs and laughed at a comedian saying horrible things. But NO, you can’t say these things on social media. Similarly, you wouldn’t say these things aloud in a crowded coffee shop, on a job interview, on a first date, or at the office water cooler. In those places, in those circumstances, you have to practice restraint.

So that means no off-color jokes about AIDS. No Hitler jokes, no Jewish jokes, no special needs jokes, none of that. You think it’s funny? That’s great – keep it to yourself. You don’t want to offend an entire continent with one tweet!

First and foremost, think of others instead of yourself. Had Justine done that, she might have considered the 1 million Americans living with HIV, or the 30 million worldwide. Let me stake out some brave territory and say AIDS is terrible. Don’t joke about it! Be nice to others.

Be nice!

To listen to my interview with Mark Reardon, HIT PLAY on the second sound file down

Other takes:

1. AdWeek initially reports on the situation.

2. Here are 16 tweets she might now wish to take back. No. 16 is way out there, in my humble opinion.

3. Here’s a robust discussion on my Facebook page about Justine and how long (if at all) we should heap scorn on her.

4. If you read nothing else on this issue, read Roxane Gay’s take on it.

5. Some additional sympathy for Justine’s plight.

6. A friend defends her, saying she’s guilty of not being good at Twitter.

7. The Twitter lynch mob.

Amy’s Baking Company – Social Media Etiquette and Advice For People That Desperately Need It

Gordon Ramsey has a show on Fox called “Kitchen Nightmares,” where struggling or failing restaurants come to be saved. I am assuming restaurants approach him, versus the other way around, and I am thinking they do this for at least two reasons: 1. To get actual help for a business that really needs it, and 2. To get some high-profile publicity. Mr. Ramsey’s show has been on the air since 2007, a fact of which I’ve been blissfully unaware. Anyway, as it is a “reality show,” I am sure the show’s producers chop up and paste together the footage to suit their needs, paint people in the light they want them to be in, and basically manipulate the story to their end. Lots of drama, yelling, slamming of fists on tables… Gordon Ramsey is not the quiet type.

And yet, for the first time ever, he walked off a show in production and said, “You people simply cannot be helped. You’re an impossible case. I’m OUTS.” He’s British; I’m paraphrasing.

After the episode aired, the fine folks at Reddit began having a field day with it. I guess Amy and Samy took exception to the fun being poked at them and melted down HARD on Facebook. This is not the first faux pas I’ve seen a company make on social media, but the breadth and depth of this freakout was notable. Multiple posts, cursing, name calling, ALL CAPS diatribes, directly interacting with people and calling them the worst of worst names… it took Facebook by storm.

Anyway, I had a chance to briefly talk about it on Fox 2 Now with Angela Hutti. My main piece of advice here was to sleep on it. This was not one of those crises that required an immediate response. No one likes to be ganged up on and called stupid and horrible. The Yelp reviews started getting so mean and fictional – just absolutely crazy things being said. As a business owner, this would infuriate me. And it’s possible that I’d be so angry, a night’s rest would do nothing for me. However, I have typed angry emails and saved as a draft, and each time I did so, I changed up the email the next day. NEVER have I said, “Yeah, that crazy stuff, sounds like exactly what I want to convey.” Rather, I’ve softened up the message every single time I’ve slept on it. If the crisis does not call for swift response, try responding after you’ve cooled down. Your calm brain thinks so differently than your agitated brain.

Here’s a page on Huffington Post with many screenshots (WARNING: graphic language), and here’s a Buzzfeed article with much of the same. Note: both contained Youtube versions of the show, but those videos have since been taken down.

Here’s a link to the story on Fox2Now, in case the embedded video above chooses not to cooperate.