Friday, January 10, 2014

I don't get it, and other dangerous ideas

I spent most of Christmas offline, and so missed the controversy surrounding Justine Sacco in late December. For anyone who isn't aware -- there must be a few dozen or so ;-) -- she was a public relations executive at the media company, IAC, prior to being sacked over a tweet that many -- including, importantly, IAC -- deemed "offensive" and "hateful". She has since apologized (through the South African newspaper, The Star, having deleted many of her accounts, including the infamous Twitter one):
... For being insensitive to this [HIV/AIDS] crisis — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed...
I find many aspects of this story, and the fallout, of interest:
  • The Data effect or humour is tricky, and how the Internet exacerbates this, sending it well beyond our tribes and context;
  • The intersection of the high of the Internet troll/vandal, mobbing and being seen to act; and, finally,
  • Maintaining a pervious worldview: has the Internet changed anything?
I really liked the Guardian's column on the incident: Srinivas does a great job of tackling the difficulty with sarcasm, and with a worldview largely composed of stereotypes and sound-bites. Another great piece that stood out was on the Ethics Alarms blog (author's emphasis):
... [W]e each are responsible for [the cultural enforcement of ethical values;] thinking hard about right and wrong and joining in the shared societal duty of enforcing those standards that will ensure the best, happiest and most productive lives for as many people as possible. That process, however... requires the responsible application of the ethical virtue of proportion. We do not make society better by turning it into a fearful place where a single misstep brings abuse and shame down upon our heads from the entire community...
I do hope that we get to a point where we can forgive people their foibles, be they based in the immaturity of youth, a dark sense of humour or a momentary slip in the filter over an inner Allie Brosh.