Why a racist AIDS Tweet showed that having tons of Twitter followers just isn’t worth it

Sometimes, obscurity is a good thing.

When you’re not widely known by the masses, you have the luxury of living your life out of the spotlight. Things you say will rarely be taken out of proportion, and you don’t have to worry about people scrutinizing your every action.

But that still doesn’t mean that our relative insignificance is something we should take for granted. And Justine Sacco learned that Saccothe hard way.

People who keep up to date with social media news likely know this story, but for those who don’t, it can be summed up in one Tweet.

<— This.

The Tweet caused a stir on social media, not in a good way, and by the time Sacco’s plane landed 12 hours later, she was America’s favorite racist, and out of a job. Needless to say, her Twitter account no longer exists.

To be fair to Sacco, who is South African, she had fewer than 500 followers at the time of the Tweet. Which may sound like a good amount, but when compared to major celebrities, it’s pocket change.

However, the problem with having a small amount of followers is that it too often presents us with a false sense of security. We think that since so few people will see it, that it can’t possibly cause an outrage. But we forget how quickly that can change. And that’s the power of social media.

And don’t get me wrong, the more Twitter followers you have, it means the more famous you are, which probably means you’re rich and successful. So having a lot of followers certainly isn’t a bad thing. But the more followers you have, the more of a target you become. And as Justine Sacco learned, it only takes one Tweet to tarnish your reputation.

But let’s examine the Tweet itself. I’ll admit, reading it made me chuckle. Not because it’s witty, or even factual, but because it’s so overtly racist that there’s no other way to construe it. And that’s a lesson, folks — if you’re going to be racist, at least be clever, too.

And the icing on the cake was the nature of Sacco’s job. You might be saying, “She got fired for that? Really?” Well, she wasn’t a computer programmer, or an accountant — but the head of communications for a media company. In other words, she gets paid to speak, and is essentially the voice of her company. Bearing that in mind, she deserved to get canned, because someone whose job relies on conversing with others should probably have better judgment.

Sacco has since apologized — obviously — but the damage was done.

The overall lesson here, though, is that people think Twitter is akin to having a thought in your head and voicing it aloud to your friends. It’s not. As of right now, I have 79 followers. Half of them are probably spam. And yet, I still make sure to check my Twitter account every so often, and make sure I didn’t say anything ridiculously stupid that I may have thought was funny at the time.

But I’m happy with my 79 followers. I don’t need anymore. I know every Tweet I make isn’t going to be inspirational or politically correct, and that every now and then a ill-advised comment will slip through the cracks. But at least it will only be seen by my close friends, and some dude named Nisskaya Kseniya, who may or may not be a terrorist.

So what’s the bottom line? Don’t become famous, never voice your opinion, and when in doubt, always — always — refrain from making an AIDS joke.

HIV jokes are cool though.

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