As I am sure most of you are aware of by now, the lynch mob was out yesterday for a certain PR executive, Justine Sacco, whose Twitter account had a fairly unsavory and ignorant tweet emanate from it. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to further investigate the events and the tweet that I am referring to.
Rather than look at this from a moralistic point of view, I’d rather explore the effect that such vultures have on discourse. I am a firm believer that the key to proper discourse of any subject is to allow all sides speak, no matter how well-reasoned or intelligent the words may be. However, the required format is implied: only with a back-and-forth as well as a constant refinement of arguments and perspectives can true knowledge be gained and shared. Discourse to me, is the ultimate in an approximation algorithm. You overshoot the true value, then undershoot, then overshoot, then undershoot, ad infinitum, until you are sufficiently close to the true value you are observing. Rarely are things as extreme as the poles wish to convey. Only through iteration by both sides on a subject can an objective and well-reasoned stance be considered.
Rather than focusing on the problem of AIDS in Africa as a result of the hyperbolic tweet in question, the vultures focused on the person speaking rather than the message. There may have been productive discourse at first, but it quickly turned into a mob-mandated assassination. There was no iteration here between the masses that wanted blood and those that saw nothing wrong with such speech. The questions that should have been asked were dead within minutes as everyone turned to the satisfaction of watching another human burn.
Quite possibly the most surreal moment of the whole trainwreck was when a few businesses jumped on the bandwagon as a means of promoting their products. Not only was it acceptable to join in the lynch mob, it was profitable.
Speech and ideas should always be criticized. It is the refinement that comes from such back and forth criticism that results in knowledge and self-growth. It scares me that such discourse can effectively be silenced on a global scale by the mob. It frightens me that opening my mouth could lead to my bones being picked clean by the bloodthirsty vultures around me. And it is harrowing that such dismantling could be approved, and mandated, by the larger masses. Calling a person out on an insensitive and ignorant remark is one thing and is a means to creating discourse about a truly unfortunate situation. Going for the throat adds nothing to a conversation that is quickly forgotten as a result.