The problem with heroes is that the more you know about a person, the more real they become—the more flawed they become, and the less heroic they begin to seem. Neil Armstrong famously shunned the spotlight after being the first human being to set foot on a world other than our own, an accomplishment that is so overwhelmingly incredible that it would be nearly impossible to articulate just what it could mean for humanity in the centuries to come. Although many attribute that to Armstrong’s humble character, I’ve heard more than once that it was also because Armstrong was aware that he could never live up to the larger-than-life spectacle his accomplishment demanded. He was a regular guy with an immense respect for the work that went into his Navy and NASA missions, both from an engineering and a piloting standpoint. But that was the problem: He was a regular guy, with flaws, blemishes, and even things he probably wasn’t proud of. The more time he spent in front of the camera, the better the chance that America would spot his mortality, and judge him harshly for it.

In the age of cell phone cameras and social media connecting us all to one another from anywhere on the globe, mistakes have become pretty tough to hide, and even tougher to rebound from. Justine Sacco’s entire life came to a screeching halt a few years ago when she posted an insensitive and foolish Tweet to her small group of 170 followers. As she boarded a plane from London to Cape Town, South Africa, she posted 12 words that would change the course of her entire adult life:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

I’m not defending it. It was a hurtful joke, it was racially insensitive, and it demonstrated a serious lack of critical thinking from the PR professional. However, as her 11-hour flight kept her away from connectivity, Gawker writer Sam Biddle came across the Tweet and re-Tweeted (re-posted) it to his 15,000 followers—calling Sacco out for her casual racism. The Tweet soon became the number one trending topic in the world, with thousands of people weighing in on what a despicable person she was.

By the time Sacco landed, tens of thousands of Tweets had been exchanged about the monster that made that joke, her job was gone, and her family in Cape Town—who were African National Congress supporters, the party of Nelson Mandela—met her with a simple statement (according to Sacco): “This is not what our family stands for. And now, by association, you’ve almost tarnished the family.”

“Unfortunately, I am not a character on ‘South Park’ or a comedian, so I had no business commenting on the epidemic in such a politically incorrect manner on a public platform,” she wrote to the New York Times. “To put it simply, I wasn’t trying to raise awareness of AIDS or piss off the world or ruin my life. Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”

Sacco had to leave South Africa because hotel employees threatened to strike if she were allowed to book a room, so she returned to what little life she had left in the United States to find herself, a PR lady that didn’t have enough clout to break 200 followers on Twitter the day before, front page news.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Sacco’s joke didn’t warrant a backlash. Heck, I would even go so far as to say that it’s not inappropriate for such a remark to cost a person tasked with public relations their job, but at some point, we lost the distinction between righteous cause and social crusade, right around the time we stopped caring about what Sacco meant, and started patting ourselves on the back for getting her fired and for continuing to keep her out of work through online campaigns to boycott any organization foolish enough to bring her on in any capacity. Because of a woman’s dumb joke to her Twitter following that, it’s worth noting, was a tenth the size of mine (a bearded nobody in Georgia), she can’t even secure a steady paycheck anymore.