One good thing about the Internet is that it can take just one moment of unique, sparkling brilliance to make a name for oneself. A particularly clever Twitter riposte can get a person loads of new Internet friends. But on the flip side, one mind-bogglingly stupid Tweet and you could lose your job and wind up the most hated person on the Internet (for a weekend).
That’s what happened to IAC publicist Justine Sacco. The senior director of corporate communications for the parent company of the Daily Beast, College Humor, Match.com, and Tinder was getting on a plane to South Africa when she sent out one last tweet before turning off her phone for the duration of the flight. Unfortunately for her and everyone who had to read it, that tweet read:
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Ouch. This is the sort of thing we expect to see from dumb teenagers who think we can’t see them on the Internet and people with so few followers they feel like they have the power of invisibility, not a public-relations expert for a giant Internet company.
The issue might have blown over relatively quickly if not for the schadenfreude and dramatic irony of the situation, because Sacco was on a 12-hour flight and had no idea that her dumb, offensive tweet was going viral. #HasJustineLandedYet drew out some of the more creative and bored users of Twitter to comment on the situation, hijack Game of Thrones memes and re-make movie posters (How to Lose a Job in 10 Seconds, starring Justine Sacco and Phil Robertson) while waiting to see how she’d respond when she found out what was going on.
In a brilliant move, the Aid for Africa charity bought justinesacco.com and redirected it to their site. According to New York, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo decided to get in on the fun and Tweeted that Justine should have taken a flight with its in-flight Wi-Fi services.
After landing in South Africa, Sacco was fired from IAC, as Twitter expected. A Cape Town local who dropped by to see the landing in person says he spoke to her father, and her father is really angry at her right now.
“I’m so incredibly ashamed of her,” Justine’s father allegedly said. “She’s a fucking idiot.” (Her disappointed father is rumored to be South African billionaire Desmond Sacco.)
Sacco has since deleted her social media presence and issued a long apology:
“Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet.”
“For being insensitive to [the AIDS crisis] — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed. This is my father’s country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am in anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people here; my family, friends and fellow South Africans. I am very sorry for the pain I caused.”
Once the furor dies down, which it probably will once the Internet finds something new to play with, Sacco will almost certainly find herself a nice new job, hopefully not one that has to do with public relations on the Internet.
But this is an important lesson to us all: Everyone can see what you are Tweeting!
Think before you Tweet, guys. You might be sitting alone in your room, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the world doesn’t know what you’re saying. Everything you type publicly should be something you wouldn’t mind if it came out in front of your boss, because that can happen.