Sacco Fired for Racist AIDS Tweet, Issues Inevitable PR Apology
The PR executive finished her tweet as she made her way onto the plane at Heathrow airport. Some 11 hours later, Justine Sacco, communications director for media giant InterActive Corp. (IAC), landed in South Africa to discover she had been fired. Her Twitter had spun massively out of control during the wifi-free hours she was on the plane, and with it, her life. The reason? A 64-character, incredibly racist tweet that read: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding! I'm white."
Sacco's tweet reached — initially — only a few hundred people. (However important she was within her company, a PR executive's Twitter account isn't exactly on the must-follow list for the general public.) But when those few hundred saw her tweet and re-tweeted it to their few hundreds, well, you can imagine what happened next.
By the time Sacco landed, IAC (the proprietors of OkCupid, CollegeHumor, Vimeo, The Daily Beast, etc.) had already fired her. Company officials issued a statement while she was still mid-flight:
"This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action."
And so was Twitter.
During her flight from London to South Africa, Twitter had been watching and waiting, following along with trending topic #HasJustineLandedYet.
It was a snowball effect that culminated in Sacco's firing. But some argue the Twitter backlash was perhaps unfair. Human resources professional Suzanne Lucas wrote for CBS:
This is bullying, pure and simple. And creepy as all get out. People who are participating should remember that they are attempting to harm someone they don't know. And why? For many of them, I don't think it's because they sincerely believe that she's a bad person who shouldn't have a position of authority in a company, but because all the cool kids are doing it.
Clearly, it was an incredibly racist thing to say —and she had even done it before. But Lucas argues that the real reason Sacco deserved to be fired is that she fundamentally failed at her job.
If you find something that so offends you that you think the person should not be able to represent a company, as a PR person does, the proper thing to do is to privately notify her company and let them deal with it. Sacco should lose her job, not for the statement, but because it indicates that she has no clue how PR works, and that's her job.
"This is my father’s country, and I was born here,” Sacco said Sunday, in her inevitable apology. “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.”