When will people learn?
It truly boggles the mind. One “given” in the 21st century is that if you put something on Twitter it could get around. In fact, that is (duh!) the goal of most people on Twitter to have their tweets get around. Yet, here we have another instance of someone who put something on the Internet that was truly inappropriate and in the end she lost her job. Even more inexplicable: this was a person who does p.r. who was, by all accounts, excellent in her job — and she held a plumb p.r. job. Until her Tweet:
The communications director fired over a tweet evoking AIDS and race that was sent as she was headed to Africa apologized today, saying she is “ashamed” for her insensitivity to the millions of people living with the virus.
Justine Sacco, formerly a PR executive for the Internet giant InterActive Corp., which owns popular websites like Match.com, Dictionary.com, and Vimeo, was fired over a tweet that came from her account on Friday that read: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Some people may jump through hoops saying it isn’t racist and it’s a matter of free speech but: a) it is racist and someone in p.r. of all things should have realized the impact and b)there is indeed freedom of speech but then there is the freedom of a corporation to ensure that it keeps itself distant from someone who could hurt its brand.
Yet, none of the above is classified information. To the average person, it’s common sense. To someone in p.r. knowing this is part of the terroritory. P.R. people are paid to protect or to enhance a brand.
And with a Tweet, all it takes is for someone to retweet it and if outrage (the freeist, most plentiful commodity among people who write on the Internet and among political partisans in both parties) snowballs it could end in a firestorm. Which is what happened here:
“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,” Sacco said. “There is an AIDS crisis taking place in this country, that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.
“For being insensitive to this 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.”
Her tweet led to a hashtag parody and a Facebook parody page — all of which further hurt her own “branding” and made her very badly damaged goods from her company — which put distance between her and it faster than an Olympic runner. But, clearly, they were in shock over the tweet, based on their experience with her:
“There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally,” the InterActive Corp statement said. “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.”
It’s truly stunning. Because it involves someone in PR.
But her apology is straightforward and sounds heartfelt. Still, she may have trouble working in the industry again, or at least in p.r. for a high profile company.
The moral? An old one. Do NOT NOT NOT NOT put anything on the Internet that a)you can’t stand by b)you can’t defend c)that can be used against you. No one can remove someone’s thoughts (inappropriate or not). But putting them out there if they are not edited by common sense is unwise.
Meanwhile, Sacco continues to give many on Twitter many hours of tweeting pleasure. A cross section:
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) December 23, 2013
— Variety (@Variety) December 22, 2013
PR exec send insane, racist tweet; is rightfully fired http://t.co/JHdFz4ToSa
— Cosmopolitan (@Cosmopolitan) December 22, 2013
What Happens Online Doesn’t Just Stay Online, Justine Sacco Edition http://t.co/jwp3tHOCdo
— Doug Mataconis (@dmataconis) December 22, 2013
Bill Kristol on Justine Sacco's Firing: 'Lynch Mob on Twitter' http://t.co/JtOvvn9uFB (VIDEO)
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) December 22, 2013
Bill Kristol discussed the Sacco tweet on This Week which means it's officially jumped the shark. http://t.co/aLc8w1qCa4
— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) December 22, 2013
Justine Sacco tweeted: "Going to get fired. Hope I don't catch poverty. Just kidding. I’m white!" #HasJustineLandedYet
— Top Conservative Cat (@TeaPartyCat) December 22, 2013
Sounds like hyperbole. But it isn't. You take your life — well, your work life — in your hands every time you tweet. http://t.co/J7XlrlbDIX
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) December 22, 2013
SOME TWEETS BEFORE THE FIRING:
What happen to Justine Sacco last night could only be enjoyed by those diseased by their own self-righteousness. http://t.co/L9Aybo5j1h
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) December 21, 2013
BREAKING: Reince Priebus hires Justine Sacco to handle PR rebranding for the GOP. #HasJustineLandedYet
— Barracks O'Bama (@P0TUS) December 21, 2013
So, Justine is the daughter of mining tycoon Desmond Sacco, who amassed his billions in apartheid-era South Africa…
— Goldie Taylor (@goldietaylor) December 21, 2013
How long til Screech Palin defends Justine Sacco's racism as her right of free speech, and takes her moose-shooting? #HasJustineLandedYet
— Barracks O'Bama (@P0TUS) December 21, 2013
It occurs to me that A&E is probably sending a fruit basket to Justine Sacco right about now.
— Peter Shankman (@petershankman) December 21, 2013
— Nerdy Wonka (@NerdyWonka) December 21, 2013
For Justine Sacco PR stands for Privileged Racist. #HasJustineLandedYet
— Jonathan Jewel (@JonathanJewel) December 21, 2013
— Jason Anderson (@J680Anderson) December 21, 2013
C'mon, admit it, you'd watch "Sacco in South Sudan" on A&E.
— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) December 21, 2013
I think Peggy Noonan and Justine Sacco are sitting together in business class .
— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) December 20, 2013
Impossible to sympathise; some people don't grasp that posting to Twitter is publication. http://t.co/MMQfUYAcxr
— Oliver Kamm (@OliverKamm) December 20, 2013
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.