Yes, Justine Sacco Really Said That on Twitter!

Justine Sacco, chief communications director at IAC, on Dec. 20 created a firestorm on Twitter with a shockingly insensitive and offensive tweet.

The tweet (which has since been deleted, along with Sacco’s account) read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White!” There should be no need to spell out why this was an inappropriate tweet, given the overt racial and cultural connotations. Still, what’s especially shocking about the tweet is that it derived from a communications professional—one who should absolutely know better.


Sacco posted the tweet at 10:19 am on December 20, just before boarding a plane to South Africa. It didn’t take long for the “Twitterverse” to weigh in and let her know what it thought about the post. Sacco, however, was inflight while the virtual melee was unfolding. But once she touched down she was greeted by her father, who resides in the country, along with reporters who were anxious to get some follow-up statements.


Image: Sacco arriving in Cape Town South Africa, courtesy of Mail Online

IAC immediately condemned Sacco’s words, and company chairman Barry Diller also made a public statement regarding his disapproval. Sacco was fired the following day, and the company also removed her name and information from its corporate website.

Sacco issued a written public apology.

"[I apologize] 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."

Despite the clear-cut insensitivity that the tweet casts, some argued that Sacco was merely joking and the context of the tweet should not be taken literally. Still, even if that’s the case, she is a communications professional, and that type of language, regardless of intention, should be avoided. The fact that she tweeted from a personal account is moot because it’s a public forum and she is a public spokesman for the company.

While most PR pros aren’t public figures, per se, they  publicly represent brands and people, so many of the same media training rules apply. That is, if you’re about to say or do something you would advise against, then stop and reconsider.

Several Twitter users and reporters have pointed out that a lot of Sacco’s tweets had similarly negative tones. In hindsight, one tweet in particular is quite ironic. On January 29, Sacco tweeted, “I can’t be fired for the things I say while intoxicated right?”

No word on whether Sacco was intoxicated, but it’s doubtful that the outcome would have been different if she was.

Follow Caysey Welton: @CayseyW

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About Caysey Welton

Caysey Welton is Associate Editor at PR News and Folio: Magazine. He spent more than a decade as a chef and restaurant professional before switching tracks to pursue his passion for media and communications. Caysey has a deep interest in converging media landscapes and ecosystem disruptors, public relations and crisis communications. He holds a BS in Media, Culture and Communications from New York University.

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