'Hope I don't get AIDS' tweet on Africa-bound PR exec's account incites outrage
A smartphone display shows the Twitter logo in Berlin, Germany on Feb. 2, 2013. (AP / Soeren Stache)
Published Saturday, December 21, 2013 11:56AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, December 21, 2013 5:07PM EST
A pre-flight tweet about AIDS and Africa sent from the account of a major U.S. media company’s public relations representative kept thousands of Twitter users up all night following the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet.
"Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" read a tweet sent Friday from the Twitter account belonging to Justine Sacco.
Sacco is a senior public relations executive at InterActiveCorp, a U.S. media and Internet company that owns a number of popular websites including The Daily Beast, Match.com, OKCupid and Vimeo. It is not known if Sacco sent the offensive tweet herself, or if, as some reports have speculated, her account was hacked.
Spurred by the tweet, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was trending overnight, with Twitter users speculating on what might happen when Sacco – who would have been oblivious to the PR disaster brewing online while she was airborne -- arrived at her destination, reported to be South Africa.
By Saturday morning, Sacco's Twitter account was no longer active.
IAC responded swiftly, calling the tweet “outrageous,” and noted that the “employee in question” was on an international flight and was “unreachable.”
In a statement released Saturday afternoon, IAC said it had “parted ways” with the “employee in question.”
“The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC,” the company said in a statement released to several media outlets. “We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”
IAC said there is “no excuse” for the “hateful statements.”
“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.”
As buzz over Sacco refused to die down, Aid for Africa – a partnership of non-governmental organizations that work in Africa -- decided to turn the ugly incident into a positive, by registering the domain name justinesacco.com. The website redirects users to the Aid for Africa donations page.
Meanwhile, inflight internet provider Gogo has apologized over Twitter for using the incident to draw attention to its services. Shortly after the tweet in question came to light, Gogo tweeted:
In a later tweet, the company apologized, saying “it’s not our policy to engage on these subjects. We clearly need a review.”
That tweet, however, appears to have now been deleted.