News Column

Lockport native's controversial blog post draws flurry of responses

August 23, 2014

By Jane Kwiatkowski Radlich, The Buffalo News, N.Y.



Aug. 23--Chris Sacca, a successful venture capitalist from Lockport who has nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers, is respected among social media investors for seeding Instagram and Kickstarter and for making a bundle on Twitter's initial public stock offering last November.

But this week, Sacca ventured out of his comfort zone when he posted on his firm's official blog -- Lowercase Capital -- his thoughts on the racial strife in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed African-American teenager was shot to death Aug. 9 by a white police officer.

Sacca's post, "A few thoughts on race, America, and our President," unleashed a flurry of responses on social media outlets, including valleywag.gawker.com, mrconservative.com and Twitter.

Sacca's passionate post took exception to his country, its leader and Michael Brown, the teenager killed in Ferguson.

"We are a nation at war with itself," it stated. "We jail our black men, and women, and boys. (Our Hispanic population isn't far behind.) We punish our poor. We have militarized our police. We selectively uphold our Constitution. 'Justice for All' is a propagandist relic."

But what drew the wrath of many was another part of his post.

"Now before you label me as one-sided on this issue, let me say from what I have seen, it appears Michael Brown was [an expletive]. If it is in fact him in the videotape from the convenience store, then he was acting like [an expletive] and likely would have deserved some form of criminal prosecution. The store owner deserved justice."

The explosive paragraph brought a torrent of comments, and according to some experts, it showed how the soapbox role of social media can be dangerous.

"Ferguson is such a hot topic right now that you're seeing a lot of dialogue created and a lot of misinformation being spread," said Jack Karlis, assistant professor in the Communications Department at SUNY Buffalo State, who specializes in social media.

Sacca's post on such an issue, Karlis said, could be a costly one.

"It's almost like a raw wound. For Sacca to go comment on it, being a cult figure in the social media world -- much like we would look to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates for technology -- his opinion has a lot of credence even if people disagree. He's talking about something he is obviously very passionate about. He may alienate some people with his comments. He may garner more attention."

Valleywag, a Gawker Media blog with gossip and news about Silicon Valley personalities, drew more than 675 comments, including this one targeting Sacca's vulgar characterization of Michael Brown:

"[It] is a character judgment, and in a world where too many men with guns think that they can judge the character of people of color and then summarily execute them on our streets, that is not just offensive, it is dangerous."

Comments calling out Sacca on his word choice are part of the drill for those who comment online, said Karlis.

"It starts out with something innocuous, and then people -- we call them trolls -- will go in and stir up a debate and it goes from an intelligent, informed discussion to subjectivity and opinion. They like to see chaos. They like to stir up the muck. They like to see the world burn."

Comments on other sites were restrained.

On mrconservative.com, Kevin White, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Mulberry, Ark., said: "Only Michael Brown cost himself his life by choosing to act like he did."

Social media can make or break someone's life in the span of one day, said Karlis.

Sacca's post became a story on the New York Post website, and was picked up by newspaper websites around the country. It was tweeted 552 times. A story Friday published on the reporting and opinion website Daily Beast carried the headline: "We need to talk about Silicon Valley racism."

When Sacca speaks, the world of social media will continue to listen, said Samantha Nephew, president of Social Media Club Buffalo.

"Sacca won't hurt from it," Nephew said in an emailed response. "He's a venture capitalist who took a noble stand and I find it commendable. However, this is the Internet and it's almost like it should be expected that people will easily take bits and pieces [out of context] to create drama."

The post could work against Sacca because of its subject matter, Karlis said.

"He took a definitive stand on something that is a very enduring and controversial topic in America, and that's race relations," he said. "Because he did this, it may affect him in a business realm. It depends if this keeps on gaining traction."

Sacca, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Truckee, Calif., declined to comment in an email response.

Gerald Sacca, Sacca's father and a Lockport attorney, also declined to comment on his oldest son's blog post.

Gerald Sacca said he was proud of both of his sons. Brian Sacca, an actor based in Los Angeles, recently played Robbie Feinberg in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"I don't think children's success is attributable to parents," Gerald Sacca said. "But if there was any in this case, it would be entirely due to the efforts of his mother. My wife spent a lot of time with the kids growing up and working on their skills to try and get them to be inquisitive."

KC Sacca is a retired professor in the special-education departments of SUNY Buffalo State and the University at Buffalo.

In declining to comment, Gerald Sacca said:

"I don't think that would be fair to Chris. My son can speak for himself."

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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(c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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