My previous post was about the misunderstanding of the “freedom of speech” clause in the First Amendment. That is, having the right to say something doesn’t shield you from the consequences of that speech. Which leads me to the title of this post, which is the famous first line in the Miranda warning that is a staple on every police show. It comes from the Fifth Amendment. Over the past few years of watching the blowback over various statements that have been made, as well as the counter-attacks attempting to mitigate the consequences under the “free speech” banner, I think that the “right to remain silent” is a much under appreciated (and necessary) right that some should be exercising. Yesterday was a sterling example, as the Justine Sacco fiasco took over Twitter.
Who is she? She’s the “Director of Corporate Communications” for InterActiveCorp (IAC). If you haven’t heard of IAC, it’s because it’s a parent company. You have very likely used or visited one of their websites, like Vimeo, Tinder, OkCupid, CollegeHumor, Dictionary.com, and a number of others. It’s not a small company, and while her name wasn’t known widely before this, she’s the PR boss for it. Which is why what she did was … astonishingly stupid. What did she do? She posted a tweet:
Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!
— Justine Sacco (@JustineSacco) December 20, 2013
Which ended up getting posted on Valleywag, and the eruption started. It went around Twitter, leading to outrage and massive sarcasm. The “winnning” tweet was:
*types worst tweet of the year* *lets out a satisfied sigh* *turns phone on airplane mode* [9 hours later] "You Have 750 New Emails"—
Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) December 20, 2013
Her bosses also felt obligated to respond:
“This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”
Since her Twitter account was deleted this morning, one assumes that they were able to contact her. Whether she still has a job at the end of this remains to be seen, but it’s an example of what I said in my previous post:
I can’t think of a single employer I’ve had over the years that hasn’t had some form of “stricture” on my “free speech.” Particularly when it came to identifying myself with that employer, or when my speech reflected on them.
I added the bolding. What made her tweet so stupid? As the PR director for an Internet company, she should have engrained as a part of her makeup “don’t say stupid things on the Internet.” That’s one of the down sides of today’s social media and rapid news cycles. In “the good old days” you could – and still can – say something bigoted or outright stupid to your friends, and not much would happen. Put it on the Internet, and everyone will see it, and no, it won’t go away. You may think that it’s just “you and your friends” you’re sharing that with, but the reality is quite different. Deleting the offensive comment doesn’t make it go away either, as any number of people and organizations will attest.
Freedom of speech has consequences. You can say anything you want, hold any belief you want, but that doesn’t mean that you are shielded from the consequences of expressing those, as much as some would like to think. That’s why the title of this post talks about your other right. You have the right to remain silent, and sometimes it’s a good idea to exercise that right. Or, as the old saying goes, “It’s better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The Internet has many great things, but it also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that you’re a fool.
Update: IAC has fired her.
“The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question,” the company said in a statement emailed to journalists.
“There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core.”