How a racist tweet caused an Internet meltdown and got a PR woman in trouble

Above: Justine Sacco tweeted a racist comment and faced the consequences.

Image Credit: Mashable

The top PR woman for InterActiveCorp (known as IAC) rose from obscurity to Internet infamy in a matter of hours. Justine Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

The Internet reacted in a white-hot manner at the racist comment, which was evidently a poor attempt at humor. This kind of incident happens a lot, but it’s very strange to see such a bone-headed move executed by a public relations professional.

What was astounding was the real-time nature of the reaction to the tweet on Friday evening. By the time she landed in South Africa, Sacco was evidently fired. There’s a lesson in this somewhere, but perhaps I might want to wait 24 hours before I figure out what it is.

[Update Dec. 21, 230 pm PST. IAC issued this statement, "The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question," an IAC statement read. "There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core."]

IAC owns more than three dozen companies, including Match.com, The Daily Beast, and Dictionary.com. It reacted as fast as it could.

“This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”

The tweet by @justinesacco was removed and the account was deleted, but not before people grabbed images of the offending tweet. The New York Times said the message was posted from London, raising questions about whether Sacco’s account had been hacked by an unauthorized user.

The newspaper said the tweet was deleted late Friday night U.S. time, or early in the morning in Africa and that just after midnight New York time, the entire Twitter account had been deleted. Then about 12:30 am, the woman’s Facebook account was deleted.

The Times also noted that Sacco had tweeted other offensive things. In January, she posted: “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”

Right now, at 11:04 pm Pacific time, the most popular hashtags trending on Twitter include “#HasJustineLandedYet,” “AIDS,” and “IAC.” In fact, all of those tweets are more popular than the hashtag, “Christmas.”

One observer wrote, “Twitter astounds me sometimes. I usually ignore stories about tweets gone bad, but the real-time-ness of #HasJustineLandedYet is nuts.

[Update: The @JustineSacco6 account was deleted again. Numerous tweeters say it is fake]. Even more unusual was that Sacco evidently created a new Twitter account, called @JustineSacco6, where she profusely apologized. About an hour ago, she tweeted, “Hey guys, just landed in South Africa. I sincerely apologize for my ignorant tweet and hope you guys can forgive me.” She added, “I was stupid for posting that tweet and beg for all of your forgiveness. I tried to make a joke, but it backfired on me.”

She also tweeted, “I just got the news that I have been fired from IAC. I expected this. Again, I am truly sorry and full of regret.” She also said there were people taking pictures of her and that she is trying to find a flight back to the U.S. She also directed people to donate to help AIDS research.

She also explained, “I did not delete my original Twitter manually. It was suspended.” And then @JustineSacco6 tweeted she had to leave Twitter because of “horrific death threats.”

Always skeptical, a Twitter follower said, “Which fake @JustineSacco apology is the most sincere?”

The media stories on the incident are still rolling in. So far, there are posts in the International Business Times, TheWrap, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, Mashable, the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, and Business Insider.

More information:

IAC is a leading media and Internet company focused in the core areas of search, applications, online dating, local and media. Ranked by Fortune magazine's annual standing of the world's most admired companies in the Internet Services ... read more »

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