Whenever I see someone’s career end due to a comment on television or social media, I think of Jon Ronson.
Jon Ronson is a Welsh journalist, known for his works that include The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test.
In 2015, he did a TED Talk entitled How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life, which explored online shaming.
In his talk, Ronson focuses on an American named Justine Sacco. In 2013, Sacco was boarding a plane to Africa and right before the plane took off, she tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Not surprisingly, that tweet didn’t land well. While she was in the air with her phone turned off, Twitter exploded. Her Tweet soon became the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
She was called every derogatory name under the sun and the public demanded she be fired. Of course, her employer, IAC, a large American holding company, obliged. They usually do. She was dismissed before the plane reached its destination.
The internet has given the voiceless a voice. In his talk, Ronson says when we perceive people to misuse their privilege or power, we can now “get them.”
|Jon Ronson. (YouTube)|
But what does that mean? There will always be people with whom we don’t agree with, who will say something not politically correct or that might even be hurtful to some.
Ronson tackles this question with saying social media is a mutual approval machine. When someone gets in the way, we scream them out, which is the opposite of a democracy.
People will always say something distasteful, but what matters is the conversation afterwards.
I’ve gone to interview locals in cafes and later had people from nearby tables or even cars stop in the street and tell me the person I was talking to was a degenerate. It’s as if they thought, the “degenerate” shouldn’t have a voice. No matter the story.
Some complain about our columnists, saying we should fire them, because they write something disagreeable, even though the purpose of a column is to start conversation.
If you’ve read something you don’t agree with — good. That’s life. That’s why we have the letter to the editor.
Although I haven’t been a journalist for long, I’ve learned everyone has a voice. Everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a degenerate, gold digger, insane or unpopular. You’re still part of the community, whether we like it or not.
I always wonder the cost of silencing unpopular voices.
Firing someone doesn’t make the thoughts go away. You just hear them less and it can give a false impression. We won’t know, as Hamlet once said, that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
With no voice, there is no dialogue. With no dialogue nothing changes.