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One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life

Justine Sacco was on her Journey to Africa when she began tweeting acerbic jokes about the indignities of travel.

There was one about a fellow passenger on the flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport:

“ ‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ — Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”

Then, during her layover at Heathrow:

“Chilly — cucumber sandwiches — bad teeth. Back in London!”

And on Dec. 20, before the final leg of her trip to Cape Town:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She chuckled to herself as she pressed send on this last one, then wandered around Heathrow’s international terminal for half an hour, sporadically checking her phone. No one replied, which didn’t surprise her. She had only 170 Twitter followers.

Sacco boarded the plane. It was an 11-hour flight, so she slept. When the plane landed in Cape Town and was taxiing on the runway, she turned on her phone. Right away, she got a text from someone she hadn’t spoken to since high school: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” Sacco looked at it, baffled.

Then another text: “You need to call me immediately.” It was from her best friend, Hannah. Then her phone exploded with more texts and alerts. And then it rang. It was Hannah. “You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now,” she said.

Sacco’s Twitter feed had become a horror show. “How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!” and “I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.” And then one from her employer, IAC, the corporate owner of The Daily Beast, OKCupid and Vimeo: “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.” The anger soon turned to excitement: “All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail” and “Oh man, @JustineSacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands” and “We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.”

The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her perceived bigotry but also a form of idle entertainment. Her complete ignorance of her predicament for those 11 hours lent the episode both dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc. As Sacco’s flight traversed the length of Africa, a hashtag began to trend worldwide: #HasJustineLandedYet. “Seriously. I just want to go home to go to bed, but everyone at the bar is SO into #HasJustineLandedYet. Can’t look away. Can’t leave” and “Right, is there no one in Cape Town going to the airport to tweet her arrival? Come on, Twitter! I’d like pictures #HasJustineLandedYet.”

A Twitter user did indeed go to the airport to tweet her arrival. He took her photograph and posted it online.

“Yup,” he wrote, “@JustineSacco HAS in fact landed at Cape Town International. She’s decided to wear sunnies as a disguise.”

By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke. Hannah, meanwhile, frantically deleted her friend’s tweet and her account — Sacco didn’t want to look — but it was far too late. “Sorry @JustineSacco,” wrote one Twitter user, “your tweet lives on forever.”

Update:
Sacco eventually found a good job in a PR firm that she loves, although she wouldn’t identify where she works to the Times because, as she told Ronson, “Anything that puts the spotlight on me is a negative.”

See? She did learn from her mistake.

The lesson here, of course, is to think before you tweet. Consider how the rest of the world will see your tweet instead of how your small group of friends will view it. The other lesson is that maybe we on the internet shouldn’t be so quick to shame others.

Ron Burgandy

Written by Ron Burgandy

Ron Burgundy is the famous anchorman for a local San Diego television station, fictional KVWN channel 4. He works alongside his friends, whom he had known since childhood, on the news team: lead field reporter Brian Fantana, sportscaster Champ Kind, and meteorologist Brick Tamland. Station director Ed Harken informs the team that they have retained their long-held status as the highest-rated news program in San Diego, leading them to throw a wild party, where Burgundy unsuccessfully attempts to pick up a beautiful blonde woman, Veronica Corningstone. Harken later informs the team that they have been forced to hire Corningstone. After a series of unsuccessful attempts by the team to seduce her, she finally relents and agrees to a "professional tour" of the city with Ron, culminating in a sexual relationship. Despite agreeing to keep the relationship discreet, Ron announces it on air.

After a dispute with a motorcyclist ends in Burgundy's dog Baxter being punted off the San Diego–Coronado Bridge, Burgundy is late to work. Corningstone fills in for him on-air, receiving higher ratings than Burgundy usually receives, and the couple breaks up when Ron bemoans her success. Corningstone is promoted to co-anchor, to the disgust of the team. The co-anchors become fierce rivals off-air while maintaining a phony cordiality on-air. Depressed, the news team decides to buy new suits, but Brick, who was leading the way, gets them lost in a shady part of town. Confronted by main competitor Wes Mantooth and his news team, Burgundy challenges them to a fight. When several other news teams converge onsite, a full-on melee ensues, only to be broken up by police sirens that cause them to flee. Realizing that having a female co-anchor is straining their reputation, Burgundy gets in another heated argument with Veronica, and they get in a physical fight after she offends him about his hair.

One of Veronica's co-workers informs her that Burgundy will read anything written on the teleprompter, so she sneaks into the station and changes the text in revenge. The next day, Burgundy (unaware of what he is saying) concludes the broadcast with "Go fuck yourself, San Diego!", instead of his signature closing line, "You stay classy, San Diego!", triggering an angry mob outside the studio and prompting Ed to fire Burgundy. Realizing she went too far, Corningstone attempts to apologize but Burgundy angrily dismisses her apology. Burgundy soon becomes unemployed, friendless, and heavily antagonized by the public while Veronica enjoys fame, although her male co-workers hate her. Ed also informs Brian, Champ and Brick that if they see Ron, he will fire them if they talk to him.

Three months later, when a panda is about to give birth, every news team in San Diego rushes to the zoo to cover the story. In an attempt to sabotage her, a rival news anchor pushes Corningstone into a Kodiak bear enclosure. When Ed is unable to locate Veronica, he recruits Burgundy. Once at the zoo, Burgundy jumps in the bear pen to save Veronica, as the public watches helplessly. The news team then jumps in to save Ron and Veronica. Just as a bear is about to attack, Baxter, who miraculously survived, intervenes and encourages the bear to spare them. As the group climbs out of the pit, Wes appears and holds the ladder over the bear pit, threatening to drop Ron back in, and says that deep down he has always hated him, but then admits to Ron that he also respects him and pulls Ron out to safety.

After Burgundy and Corningstone reconcile, it is shown that in years to come, Fantana becomes the host of a Fox reality show named Intercourse Island, Tamland is married with 11 children and is a top political adviser to George W. Bush, Kind is a commentator for the NFL before getting fired after being accused by Terry Bradshaw of sexual harassment, and Burgundy and Corningstone are co-anchors for the CNN-esque World News Center.

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