When an offensive comment on social media makes headlines, the rest of the world may revel in outrage—while the person who made the regrettable tweet watches her life quickly unravel. And while the Internet moves on to its next controversy, the debacle isn't over so fast for the person at its center. In the New York Times, Jon Ronson details the experience of several such people, including Justine Sacco, who, while in flight, garnered international attention when she tweeted: "Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!" The world waited for her plane to land: "We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired," noted one of a sea of commenters. Indeed, she soon lost her job and grappled with PTSD and depression.
Her tweet, it seems, was actually intended to make fun of her own privilege, Ronson writes. “To me it was so insane of a comment for anyone to make,” she said. "I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was literal." Among those who apparently did was Sam Biddle at Gawker Media, who posted the tweet and told Ronson he figured Sacco would soon be "fine." He eventually suffered a similar reaction to one of his own tweets—and subsequently apologized to Sacco. The story reminds Ronson of historical public shaming, whether in the stocks or at an execution. Even centuries ago, it had its critics: "Ignominy is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death," noted a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Click for Ronson's full story.