How one stupid tweet blew up Justine Sacco's life

shameThe NY Times Magazine has an excerpt from Jon Ronson's forthcoming book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. I got an advance copy of the book. It's about people who've had their lives ruined from online shaming.

In the book, Jon spent time with recipients of online shaming, including Jonah Leher, The Silence and Respect photo person, the people fired in the dongle joke incident, and Justine Sacco, who tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!".

I was sickly fascinated by the book. I think it's Ronson's best book, and I have loved every book he's written (Men Who Stare at Goats, Lost at Sea, The Psychopath Test, etc.). I kept telling my wife how great this book was while I was reading it, and she became intrigued, so I had to rip it down the spine and give the first half to her while I finished the second half. We both had the same feeling from reading it — a fear of tweeting, and reluctance to join in on an online shame pile-on.

"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 one stupid tweet blew up Justine Sacco's life