Every day, apparently, somebody's got to get fired for saying something off, and since I've blogged about the Duck Dynasty flap, I've got to offer up the story of Justine Sacco, a lady no one had ever even heard of, who tweeted, got on a trans-Atlantic flight, and landed to find that during the 12 hours when she was incommunicado the internet had caught fire with outrage over a pointless, stupid remark she'd made, and #HasJustineLandedYet was trending. What a nightmare!
She joked about not getting AIDS, and she discovered she'd come down with a raging case of another disease — sudden-onset fame toxicity. There was no hope for the lady, whose specialty was actually PR, at which she was — to be fair to the company that fired her — manifestly incompetent.
Unlike Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco had no fans. She's just stranded out there, with no friends at all. It's pretty sad. One bad joke — on Twitter — and you're doomed. Will anyone dare make a joke again? Not about AIDS. Maybe not anything with a racial element that might be misunderstood. Maybe nothing that casts the speaker in the character of an absurdly insensitive lout. What else? Be careful! You never know when sudden-onset fame toxicity (SOFT) will strike.
ADDED: "Some liberal white person coming to grips with her privilege and wanting the whole world to know about it" — that's how Professor Jacobson saw the tweet. I said something similar in the comments to this post before reading that. It's actually a pretty easy joke to figure out, if you're at all inclined to read charitably. So the real question is, as Jacobson put it: "Why did so much of the Twittersphere quickly proclaim her a racist and go after her with such a blood lust?"
Jacobson's answer is: "Because it could." I'd say: There really is no "it." The whole 'sphere never does anything. But the virus of hate happens, because somebody saw something and retweeted it in a way that caught on. There was no mind at the top to exercise moral judgment about whether inflating a nonentity for the purpose of destroying her was a good idea or even minimally acceptable. It was a heartless force of nature. I call it SOFT. Human beings need to observe and see it and fight it.... while we still have minds... minds that have yet to go fully soft.