I wonder what Justine Sacco thinks about what’s happening at Gawker 2.0. Today, Gawker’s only two staff writers quit in protest of their editor Carson Griffith’s unsafe language. Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw released a statement that they could not “continue to work under someone who is antithetical to our sensibility and journalistic ethics, or for an employer who refuses to listen to the women who work for him when it’s inconvenient.”
Kosoff and Breslaw objected to comments and jokes made by Griffith’s about poverty, race, and penis size. According to The Daily Beast, Griffith’s other thoughtcrimes included dismissing “diversity training” sessions and not taking preferred pronouns seriously. Things went from bad to worse for Griffith when Splinter published a bunch of her tweets, many of which were in bad taste, in a charming hit piece entitled, “Here Are the Media Chuds Joining Fake Gawker.”
After the pair ran to Human Resources to tell on Griffith, they were told that Griffith would remain in her role. That’s when they walked. If any of this sounds petty and pointless, that’s because it is. All of it. But that’s the culture Gawker helped to create.
Gawker is experiencing an in-house crisis that mirrors the countless crises that it was responsible for in its first incarnation as North America’s number one source for online shaming. When Justine Sacco’s life was destroyed in 2013 over some joke tweets, Gawker played a major role in amplifying the story.
In a 2014 Gawker piece, Sam Biddle described his reasoning for publicly shaming Sacco for a joke on Twitter: “Twitter disasters are the quickest source of outrage, and outrage is traffic. I didn’t think about whether or not I might be ruining Sacco’s life.”
Sacco lost her job and became the number one trending topic on Twitter as a result, with hundreds of thousands of people calling her every name in the book and telling her to kill herself. To Biddle’s credit, he eventually made peace with Sacco and apologized.
Gawker’s shame-driven publishing model would eventually spell the end of the magazine, when Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) and Peter Thiel teamed up to sue the site into bankruptcy for posting a sex tape of Hogan. However, the outrage-driven mentality has only increased in our culture since Gawker 1.0’s demise, with many mainstream news outlets taking up the mantle of defaming and shaming.
In a lot of ways, it feels like the entire media world has become Gawker in Gawker’s absence, as week after week, new stories emerge that are sourced by and catered to the outrage of readers. These stories are often about language policing (like this current Gawker one), but as we’ve learned from the recent Covington Catholic debacle, language isn’t even required. A smirk is enough to shame you.
People who grew up in communist dictatorships often speak about surveillance culture. They talk about the fake language they had to use in order to avoid getting into trouble—a code that was used to speak around their truth. They recall the fear in their neighbours’ eyes when certain subjects were brought up.
A similar fear is spreading throughout North America. Surveillance culture has seeped into our universities, our corporations, and our media. Things that used to be considered harmless banter are now considered unsafe or even hateful. One wonders how a simple goal like collegiality is even possible to achieve in 2019.
Surveillance culture has led to the derailing of Gawker 2.0 before it even had a chance to get started. Perhaps they will find other writers and find a way to carry on despite the will of the woke.
But I can’t help but thinking about Justine Sacco. I wonder what she thinks about the current Gawker mess. I wonder what she makes of all this surveillance, mobbing, and shaming that has only escalated since her ordeal. I wonder what insights she might have as one of the most recognizable victims of this cultural nightmare that we can’t seem to wake up from. I bet she could write one hell of an essay about all of this, and it looks like Gawker is in need of writers.