Around the 2nd Friday of the Month of December, IAC (owner of websites such as College Humor, About.com, Match.com, okcupid, and vimeo) PR executive Justine Sacco had about 300 Twitter followers and was relatively obscure in the online community. But after a racially-themed tweet, she went on board on a commercial flight without wifi access and after 12 hours of silence as Twitter raged, she became a press relations nightmare and was fired from her company.
So how did it all happen, and can we learn anything from the whole debacle? It all started with a careless tweet before boarding the aforementioned flight. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white,” is shocking, particularly coming from a senior PR professional at a well known media company. It makes light of the AIDS scourge in Africa, PLUS it brings in the issue of race as well. And there was nothing at all amusing about it, if that’s what Justine made it out to be.
Soon after the said tweet, social sites such as BuzzFeed took notice and thus began the twitter rage. At first, many thought her account was hacked. Others thought it was an attempt at humor, a lame one at that. The tweet was RT’d thousands of times, and Sacco’s Twitter account ballooned to over 6000 followers. IAC had posted an apology for the “outrageous” and “offensive” tweet and implied she would be dismissed as soon as she could be reached. Sacco’s name was then removed from the company’s profile.
As Twitter waited for a response, it became obvious Sacco was on a flight without internet access. In the meantime, the Twitter community went into overdrive. The domain justinesacco dot com … was acquired and redirected to an African aid donations site. All were glued to Sacco’s account, waiting for the moment when she would realize her mistake, and the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet became a worldwide trend. At some point, the offending tweet was deleted, as well as her Twitter account. Sacco has become a perfect example of the power of social media and to some, she has become a poster child for thoughtless, self-indulgent, oversharing millennials.
As they say, always be careful what you Tweet!