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Why it is So Easy to Lose your Reputation, your Job in an Instant (Despite your best laid plans)

There is this story that caught my attention not too long ago.

A lady that work in corporate communications was suppose to travel to South Africa to visit family members. While she is at the airport, she decided to take to Twitter to twit some acerbic jokes.

The first one was: “‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ — Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”

That sounds OK.

The people that would see her tweet numbered 170.

Somewhere before her flight took off she twitted:“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She boarded the flight, flew a lot of hours and landed in Cape Town.

Little did she realize, in the few hours in the air, her tweet had went viral:

  • Her last twit became trending world wide
  • She became an overnight hate figure because people couldn’t get the joke in her twit and branded her as a racist
  • During her flight time, the tweets got so out of control that people were trying to spot whether they can find her in the Cape Town airport
  • Workers were threatening to go on strike if she showed up at one of their hotels
  • She got chided by her relatives upon reaching that this was not what their family stood for
  • She lost her good job

Your Life could be easily taken away from you in This Social Culture of Ours

Never have we been so connected to each other, and people we do not know in our lives.

A lot of people upon reading this account, would think that this lady, Justine Sacco is stupid.

I think it is not so straight forward.

Some people really couldn’t think of the repercussion or the severity of the messages they put out in their social media.

However, to be popular in the social media, it does involve pushing the lines between what is acceptable to be done and what is not.

And it is very easy for us to cross the line.

Ms Sacco did reason in her head that how can anyone believe that if you are white you will not get aids. However, what got people angry with her is how she flaunted her white privilege around.

Bet in her reasoning she did not think about that.

And social media is rather unforgiving about this.

Social Media have taken vigilantism and social bullying to a new level.

Further examples of Negative Consequences

Lindsey Stone is a 32 year old from Massachusetts who posted a picture in a cemetery with the sign “Silent and Respect” where she pretended to scream, with a middle finger in one of her hands.

She and her co-worker posted the picture online as a naughty joke about disobeying signs.

However, some strangers found her photos and turns out her private photos were visible to the public.

The public’s interpretation is not about the disobeying signs but a blatant mocking of the dead.

She got her very own “Fire Lindsay” Facebook Page.

Lindsay was working in a program for developmentally disabled adults, was fired from her job.

Facebook was filled with messages denouncing her behavior.

She developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and insomnia. She doesn’t venture out of her home. She spent her time reading up the stories of people in the same situation as her.

It is not just the victims that will feel the wrath.

Those who became the vigilante, who took the photos also got the shock of their lives.

This one was really innocent in my opinion.

A man, was in the middle of a conference. He began telling a rather obscene joke to his friend (something about a big dongle).

He thought this conversation won’t be over heard.

Unfortunately, a lady thought that was really not appropriate, stood up and took a photo.

The man didn’t even notice, and thought the lady was taking a photo of the conference, so he did the courteous think and looked forward.

The lady, who had 9000 twitter followers, tweeted that wasn’t very cool.

The man a day later was fired from his job.

That woman, soon felt the power of the social media herself.

The man who lost his job posted  about it on Hacker News, an online forum popular with developers. This lead to a backlash on the other end of the political spectrum, the so called men’s rights activists.

They found the lady’s home address, send a bunch of death threats on Twitter, Facebook and even to her home.

She had to stay with her friends.

The kicker was that, her employer’s website was subjected to a denial of service attack (DDoS). Her employer, SendGrid, was told of the attacks would stop if they fired the lady.

On the same day she was let go. She was shocked that her company threw her under the bus.


There are enough examples on a local context.

  • A Singapore PR Anton Casey was fired from his job for remarking that people who take public transport are poor people Link >>
  • A maths tutor and the shareholder of her tuition agency got into an altercation with an elderly man. Their identities was found out and subsequently made as an example on social media Link >>

You will lose your Reputation and everything will Spiral out of Control

Did these people get what they deserve?

I can remember I have friends making racist remarks and obscene jokes.

The same people who commented that these people got what they deserve for making stupid comments that, they will never make.

As a person that is in the public space, all these vigilantism of uncovering your private information is very unsettling.

Investment Moats could possibly be one comment away from being severely exposed.

Whether you deserve it, or you have your own version of the story that may be the truth, it doesn’t matter.

Your company would take the safe route and not be associated with you.

Your friends will take the safe route and not be associated with you.

You lose your reputation (wrongfully or rightfully) and you have no way to earn in this country.

Your only avenue is to hopefully moved abroad to rebuild your life.

How can we Mitigate or Avoid the Effects of these Privacy Exposure?

I think the best way is to not play this game at all. Many felt that this social media can be rather innocent, until they been hit by cyber bullying, keeping up with the Jones.

Social media channel is not free. You give up your privacy in order to try and earn some social capital. And you need to manage your social reputation.

Curate your online persona to the best of your ability. Have a filter in your head, do you want to be associated with something that you fired out?

The best is to have an anonymous profile.

Don’t assume that your bond-like career won’t have default risk. The worse case scenario for a bond holder is when the bond issuer is unable to pay the returns for you lending them the money. In real life, some of us work in the civil service, or got into a position where your job seems rock solid.

Due to the bond like nature of their job, they can take a large amount of leverage, purchase a more expensive car, afford to save less.

They plan their life with the assumption that very little negative effects will happen in their job.

If you look at some of these cases, particularly the one where the guy made an obscene comment, that could well be anyone of us.

Building up your wealth for financial security is always a worthwhile insurance against these black swan events.

War-game in your head in the event that you lost your reputation, what could you do? Could you live a hermit life for a long while to avoid the public eye. Is your skill set strong enough to go to another country and work as an expat? Could you  go to New Zealand and pick strawberry?

War gaming is a concept that I have mentioned in the past of going through what you will do in the event of some likely and less likely scenarios happening. This is a concept more prevalent in the army however it is applicable to our personal lives.

The Last Word

I think people like to peer through social media and take a look at these news because their life is too boring without it.

What happens if it features someone you know?

I tend not to participate in these discussion. Perhaps I have more empathy for the central characters because experience tells me things are often more than meets the eye. And that, if the same thing that happen to me, I wouldn’t want so much attention as well.

Personal finance in this case might not be rather helpful. An emergency fund won’t last you enough for a long hiatus. You might struggle to sell off your property with the negative publicity

The only helpful thing about personal finance is, through the pursuit of the subject, you develop enough flexibility in your head that you can squeeze money out to fund your overseas hermit life that others would struggle to do.

Have any of your peers been in this situation? Have you thought about situations like this and how you could go about navigate it? Let me know.

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Monday 12th of June 2017

Insightful article from you Kyith, thanks. I personally do not participate actively in social media platforms but I do listen occasionally to be semi-uptodate with trends.


Monday 12th of June 2017

Hi Drew, the problem is many originate not because the people were not social media but were done offline. we cannot avoid those situation. you can don't engage but all of your friends, family will. even if you do not have an account, if this situation becomes national, it will affect you negatively.


Monday 12th of June 2017

Hi, not many people talking about this social media topic. I selsom see such topic, maybe have but i dont know... hehehe I personal don't really like social media. Just my personal feel lah. Not saying social media no good hor.

I feel less privacy when I use social account like Facebook/ tweet. Although I have Facebook account but I didn't log in. Just not comfortable. That's how I feel lah...



Monday 12th of June 2017

social media is the easiest to be the largest trigger but that is not all. It can be very innocent such as some altercation suddenly at work. your cushy job become not so cushy anymore.


Monday 12th of June 2017

The really scary story is about the guy who simply made an inappropriate joke privately to his friend, and got fired for that. (About 1/2 way down Kyith's article) This person was not messing around with social media.

I think many of us have privately made some "politically incorrect" jokes to our friends at some point.

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