Judge, Jury, & Twitter Followers
As we find ourselves in an era of unprecedented insight into the daily thoughts and actions of our peers, we also find ourselves in a time of astounding and widespread judgment. We condemn others on the most narrow and superficial of expressions, sometimes on the basis of an image alone. We are at a peculiar intersection of modern day communication and old-fashioned scruples. Empathy has yet to match the update speed of our Instagram feeds.
Take the example of Justine Sacco, the now-infamous PR exec who published an ill-advised tweet shortly before boarding an eleven-hour, internet-free flight to Africa:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Cue the outrage. In the uncontrollable manner of a forest fire, backlash across the World Wide Web, gained momentum and fervor with every share and retweet. By the time Justine de-boarded her plane, she was the top trend on Twitter, was on the threshold of losing her job, and was the subject of a petition circulating to ban her from the African continent. All this, the result of 74 characters.
Such was the strength of the reaction that it appears people were under the impression that the greater the degree of outrage expressed, the less racist and more tolerant they themselves would appear. The great majority of those who spoke out on the issue knew nothing further about Justine than those 74 characters and yet that was all they needed to damn her.
There’s an element of mob psychology in this widespread act of condemnation and shaming. After all, what’s one more voice in a chorus of thousands? Surely, with such widespread fury, she must have deserved it, at least in part. The problem with these knee-jerk reactions lies with the long-term consequences. For the average pitchfork-wielding citizen, that tweet or petition signature was a few minutes out of their day, a quick opportunity to dust off their soapbox and assume their mantle of righteous indignation before returning to business as usual. For Justine, that was end of a job, the derailing of a career she had most likely spent years building, and weeks or months of hiding in shame. To this day she’s a poster-child for ironic career blunders.
Yes, social media has revolutionized modern-day communication and broken down global barriers but it has also bestowed an unwieldy and destructive power upon each and every user. While the ultimate responsibility may lie with the original author of the post, I believe a responsibility also falls on our shoulders as consumers to construct opinions based on more than a Facebook post, a tweet, or an Instagram. Responsible consumption and reaction is the key to checking the awesomely destructive power of social media reporting. Empathy must be the key component to our daily social interactions.
None of us is without fault, yet we are all throwing stones.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net