Commentary Magazine


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What is it about communicating in 140 characters or less that makes people stupid? Idiotic Twitter faux pas are now just something we’ve come to expect. And the latest Twittiocy might seem to put even Anthony Weiner to shame (if such were possible). 

Justine Sacco, head of corporate communications for media conglomerate IAC, just before hopping on a plane for a vacation in South Africa, tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” 

As Ms. Sacco wended her Internet-less way through the skies in blissful ignorance, her tweet went viral, and all hell broke loose. She was given the heave-ho by her bosses pretty much as soon as her plane landed, and her Twitter account disappeared. Ms. Sacco has now issued the obligatory apology for the “insensitivity” of her tweet and for the “pain” she caused–to AIDS victims, to black people, to South Africa.

This incident was not, it turns out, Ms. Sacco’s first venture into Interweb … um … liveliness. Her now-defunct Twitter profile, for example, describes her thus: “CorpComms at IAC. Troublemaker on the side. Also known for my loud laugh.” And a couple of years ago, she tweeted, “I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night.”

This woman is (or was, anyway) in the PR biz! Now, I happen to be in that business myself, and one of its key tenets has always been, “never say anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.” So, what in the world was she thinking?

The answer (obviously)? Not much. Was she trying to squeeze tragic irony into her allotted 140? Perhaps; maybe even likely. But, really, tragic irony can’t possibly translate well in four sentences dashed off on the way from one plane to another. Especially when your goal is to impress the blogosphere with your snappy cleverness. 

Soberer heads are in the process of turning Twitter into a rather more sedate business and political communications tool; but it’s safe to say that the careless, the feckless, and the downright stupid will find themselves a new digital pathway.

Let’s not forget, after all, that the social media revolution was brought to us by those models of thoughtless, insensitive stupidity (and here I do apologize in advance for any pain I may cause)–college kids.