How One Mistake On Twitter Destroyed A Woman’s Life (And what we can learn from it)

This one mistake on Twitter destroyed a woman's lifeMorbid Fascination

Last night (at the time of this writing) I read this very insightful article in the New York Times. I was so morbidly fascinated I just couldn’t put it down. It was about a woman traveling from New York to South Africa to visit family. While she was on a layover in London, she sent out a tweet. This tweet of hers, it was an awkward attempt at humor. But it had to do with AIDS and race–and it was definitely more awkward than it was humorous.

After she sent this tweet she checked for a response but there was none. She only had around 170 Twitter followers, so that’s not too surprising. But what happened next was very surprising.

During the eleven hours she was in the air between London and Cape Town, South Africa, a writer and editor of a blog with 15,000 Twitter followers got wind of her tweet. So he posted it on the blog he edits, and this began a chain of events the woman never anticipated.

The Twitterverse blew up. It blew up with tweets about her “disgusting racist tweet” and her “racist ignorance.” Her employer even entered the fray and tweeted, “This is an outrageous, offensive comment…” And these were just the headwaters of a river of such tweets that would ultimately number in the tens of thousands.

And while she was still in the air there were also tweets about what it was going to be like when she landed in Cape Town, and turned on her phone, for the first time in eleven hours. Someone even requested that some Twitter user from that part of the world show up at the airport to take her picture when she arrived. And someone did. Naturally they put the picture out on Twitter.

After landing, when she first turned on her phone, she saw a text from a friend she hadn’t seen since high school that said, “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” The woman didn’t get it. Then she saw another text that said, “You need to call me immediately.” Then her phone erupted with messages.

A few moments after she stepped off that plane she learned that she was the #1 trending person on Twitter, in the entire world.

Can you imagine what she was feeling at that moment?

A Twist In The Plot

The Twitterverse can be a digital wild west where the gunslingers are trolls and the wounded bleed self-esteem. As a result of that one tweet that woman’s life was destroyed. In this case she lost more than her self-esteem. She lost her job. And workers at the hotels in South Africa where she was scheduled to stay threatened to strike if she stayed there. She said that she can’t get a date, because who doesn’t Google their prospective date these days? She said in the Times article, “I cried out my body weight…” Life as she knew it was over.

But here’s the twist, the writer who got wind of her tweet, the one with 15,000 Twitter followers, the one who got the ball rolling, he would later send out a thoughtless tweet of his own. And the Twitterverse jumped on him in similar fashion.

My Mistakes, And Yours

If you research these tweets you’ll see that they were both obvious mistakes. I don’t condone either message and if you read them, neither will you. But the thing is, we all make mistakes. Everyone of us. For most of us they won’t be publicly pounced on by thousands the way these two tweets were. But also for most of us, some of our mistakes have been far worse than publicly making a stupid thoughtless comment on Twitter.

We all fail, we all fall, we all sin. And we all will experience consequences for our sins. Yet enthusiastically joining a horde of cynics criticizing someone else’s mistake has never been easier. But that’s a sin too.

So if you’re a Christian, don’t join that horde.

Because if you’re a Christian, you’re commanded to forgive.

You know that even though that person made a stupid mistake–if you’re a Christian–you’ve already been forgiven for yours.

How It Is For You And For Me, According To Jesus

…the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe. So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” -Jesus Christ, Matthew 18:21-35


Jon Ronson, How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life, The New York Times, 2/12/2015

Bible Gateway

Image via id-iom – Creative Commons

HT to Karla Brunner for sharing the Times article.

5 Comments on “How One Mistake On Twitter Destroyed A Woman’s Life (And what we can learn from it)

  1. Wow, that’s crazy!

    That’s why we need to be careful what we say. Moreover, it’s better to get a heart transplant to get rid of that prejudice in our hearts.

    • Absolutely true Peter. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; there is neither black nor white; for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Couldn’t agree more.

  2. Great article! A wonderful reminder that as a Christian we have a responsibility to both our Lord and Faith to be a witness even on Twitter. It is also a great reminder that once we we put things out there in the cyber universe it can take on a life of its own so we need to be thoughtful and respectful. Well done Kirk.

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