Two or so weeks ago the Internet had its latest meltdown around Justine Sacco’s racist tweet. (disclaimer – I am in no way defending her tweet with this post).
Is that tweet real? You work in PR. You shld know better RT @JustineSacco “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
— David Cohn (@Digidave) December 20, 2013
At the time I was the first person to do an @ response to her on Twitter (I didn’t discover it though, just the first to respond). I went along with my day and didn’t think twice until…. her tweet became a worldwide phenomena. It seemed like all of Twitter was waiting for her to land and spitting all kinds of vitriol at her (some threatening physical violence).
I still stand by my initial tweet. It wasn’t over the top. It was partly a question (is this real?), but somehow I was the first small chant in what became a mob. That’s not what I wanted. It brought to the forefront a feeling I’ve had about the Internet of 2013 and social behaviors that has been bothering me. It’s hard to put my finger on it. It’s not the obvious critique about internet mobs and yada yada (yawn…. is that just a republication of the last story when this happened) Rather, it’s something more base than that.
In the 1976 satirical movie The Network there is a scene when the main character goes on a rant about how television is a charade. A kind of shadow cast on the wall of Plato’s cave. Take four minutes. It’s a great rant. Then look yourself in the mirror and admit you’ve had these thoughts about television before. This is not a far leap to make IMHO.
Social Media is different. But, it really isn’t
Sure, social media is different from television. After all, “we’re the real thing” and social media is made up of us. Therefore, social media is also “the real thing.” Then remind yourself that the word “real” can be co-opted. Half of television are “reality” shows now.
I posit that socializing on the internet is to real social activity as reality television is to actual reality.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” - Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol couldn’t have been more right about this. What he failed to include was the notion that everyone will think they are famous for much longer than 15-minutes. When a “real person” is cast on a reality show, we are not seeing the truth. We are seeing a performance. And while there is no “casting” online – much of what we see is a farce. It is directed. It is mediated and produced. Even moreso for those whose professions (digital gurus, social media editors, etc. etc) are inherently connected to the online world.
Perhaps there was some of this around the scandal of Justine Sacco’s tweet.
From John Bercovici: Only this, maybe: Justine Sacco was not the first person to get herself fired for saying something stupid on Twitter. She won’t be the last. Every medium and technology ever invented carries its own perils, but there’s something about social media in general and Twitter in particular that invites and rewards self-damaging behavior …. Because the feedback of other users is such a central part of the experience, we learn to seek it, tailoring our voices over time to maximize our retweets and favorites. And because it’s such a big, noisy party, we come to learn — as Justine did — that it helps to be just a little bit outrageous.