The period of time known as The Salem Witch Trials began in February 1692. From then until May 1693, twenty people would lose their lives after a series of accusations and trials. Origins of revenge and jealousy were later discovered as the basis of some accusations. Sadly, the general public was too fearful to take a stand for what was right, and instead joined the safety of an angry mob in the killings of these innocent people.

After it all ended, those on the outside looked on in judgment, saying “My God, how could they let things get so out of control? Well, we’ve learned, grown, and wouldn’t act like that today.”

In 1950, Joseph McCarthy began scouring America for Communist sympathizers. He wanted them out of the government; he wanted them out of Hollywood. The McCarthy Hearings became a systematic method for browbeating and blacklisting people who wouldn’t toe the line.

When all was said and done, people’s lives were irreparably damaged; all because the many were too afraid of being attacked themselves to stand up to one insane man. Again, looking back, people said “My God, how could they let things get so out of control? Well…” and so on.

On December 20, 2013, Justine Sacco was boarding a flight to Africa. Offhandedly, she Tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

A blogger for the popular website Gawker noticed Justine’s words, and reposed it on the popular website for all the world to see. Something meant for 200 friends and followers suddenly became fodder for millions of Internet users. People who didn’t know Justine Sacco, didn’t know whether she was serious or sarcastic; ignorant or too sly for her own good. Instead of trying to find out, they assumed the worst, and then acted on that lack of information.

Like a wildfire in a California August, self-righteousness spread #HasJustineLandedYet across the Internet; Justine was instantly hated.

By the time her plane landed, Justine was out of a job—fired—and her world had been turned upside down. The masses cheered: We got her!

Never mind that, as already stated, the Tweet was from her personal account, and only meant for friends. The people it was meant for would have understood the Tweet for what it was: a play on ignorance, something not unlike what Stephen Colbert did for nine years. The difference is SC had an established character.

The similarity is: even though SC had that established character, the ignorant masses piled it on him in 2014, with #CancelColbert trending because a web activist missed the point of a very obvious joke. So, if an established snark like Colbert could be attacked and misunderstood, what chance did a nobody like Justine have?

None.

Whether or not you like the joke, find it tasteless, or are indifferent doesn’t matter. What the situation proved is that it is easier to react than to think. And the masses, they reacted. The Internet provided a platform for the many to shout their opinion to the world, even if that opinion was under-informed and nothing more than knee-jerk reactionary.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive to Justine’s plight, because I trade in jokes. Except unlike Justine, I know full well that no matter what you do or say, someone will be offended. I Tweeted a joke about a teeny-bopper band, and their followers came at me in a fury of tin-eared idiocy. I blasted Chris Brown for abusing women, and his supporters rose up against me in his defense. I say those things not to cry victim, but to point out the silly: people were offended by my going after tween bands and Chris Brown. Everyone is offended by something.

It’s easy to say, “But Justine’s joke was racist,” except that’s already been covered. In her mind, she was saying something like you’d hear on South Park; something so obtuse it was making fun of someone who would Tweet it without irony. If we’re piling Justine in with members of the Klan or actual hateful, harmful racists, then we’ve lost perspective of where the fight really needs to be. Which means we’ve already lost.

“But she was the communications director for a company! She should have known better!”

Does that mean she’s not allowed a private life? Does that mean she’s not allowed to make mistakes? I do believe there are people who deserve web shaming. They write the most awful, racist, vile things possible and post them online. But to go after someone for a single joke, knowing nothing else about them? It’s nothing more than getting riled up for the sake of getting riled up. It’s mob mentality, and if Agent K taught us anything, it’s that while “A person can be smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.”

So, why is the topic of Justine’s Tweet coming up one year after the fact? Because it’s on the web again. This time, however, it’s not front page, “Get everyone fired up!” news. This time it’s, “Oh, hey, look: a retraction.” Naturally, like any correction or apology, the recall is happening in a very small way. Human kindness doesn’t make headlines like sensationalism does.

The man who took Justine’s anonymous Tweet and fired it out to the world on Gawker, the man who made a snap judgment about a person and helped millions of others make the same snap judgment, realized he was in the wrong. He felt guilty about his actions, realized the failings of them, and apologized to Justine.

Does anyone who piled on her back then feel guilty? Most probably don’t even remember what they did, we’re such an attention-deficit species.

I wrote this essay for no reason other than to get the thoughts out of my head; I know it won’t make a lick of difference the next time the masses have the opportunity to react, or stop and think.

I mean, if the murder of innocent women in Massachusetts didn’t change anything, why would the firing of one woman make a difference?

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Hey, look, second book!

TTA Timmel Book Cover SQUARE_102314

Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

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