Justine Sacco was a New York PR woman: she made a joke (that she claims was a comment on white privilege), tweeted it to her 170 followers, it was retweeted and judged as being racist by somewhere with far more followers, and eight hours later it had been shared 1,220,000 times and she’d been sacked. The incident sparked an eight-hour long hashtag following: #hasjustinelandedyet.
The writer Jon Ronson investigates her story in his book So You’ve Been Publically Shamed. In her case, not only were people outraged, or choosing to be outraged by her comment; they were also putting it to themselves to ensure she was duly punished for it. Very public online media channels like Twitter, Reddit and 4chan allowed people – us, as Ronson notes – to do that.
What Allan suggests (in Citizen Witnessing) – and as was suggested in our first lecture – digital media can make a journalist or a news photographer out of anyone. The civilian is most often the first man on the scene: he sees the story, photographs the story, shares the photograph on social media – and then the online press use the picture. But what Ronson makes a point of is that is digital media can make anyone a journalist/ photographer; it can also make anyone the judge, jury and executioner. En masse, we have to power to force a company to fire an employee because we, digitally, disagree with what they say. An extract from Ronson’s book was published here in the New York Times last year – it’s worth reading.