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article imagePR exec fired after racist 'I'm white' AIDS tweet sparks outrage

By Yukio Strachan     Dec 23, 2013 in Internet
Cape Town - A top public relations executive who posted a tweet Friday that read — "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" — got an unexpected reply after she landed in South Africa: a pink slip from her employer.
The tweet came Friday from the account of Justine Sacco, head of public relations for New York tech giant InterActiveCorp (IAC), South Africa Broadcasting Corp reported. The media empire, chaired by billionaire Barry Diller, owns more than 150 companies, including, The Daily Beast and
According to CNN, Sacco was in London and about to begin a long vacation in South Africa when she wrote the message.
After she posted the tweet around 10:19am, someone saw it and emailed it to Valleywag editor Sam Biddle. Biddle then tipped off With their efforts, it didn't take long for Sacco's message to ignite a social media firestorm.
This put IAC in the awkward position: responding to a public relations crisis set off by the head of public relations.
"Her whole job revolved around communicating with reporters — which made her Twitter comment about Africa all the more shocking." CNN reported.
On Friday afternoon, IAC issued a statement to Valleywag editor Sam Biddle:
"This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC," the company said. "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 fact that Sacco didn't have Internet access on her flight meant that she had no idea about the storm that was brewing online and gathering strength as she neared her arrival at Cape Town International Airport.
It didn't take long for the hashtag "#HasJustineLandedYet" to begin trending globally as a popular topic on Twitter
Soon, waiting on Sacco to land in South Africa became its own reality show.
As Buzzfeed noted: "The whole world waited for one person’s plane to land so she could get back online and respond to her critics."
Sacco's landing "will outshine the Apollo 13 moon landing as the most watched landing of a human,” one watcher tweeted.
It was assumed that Sacco landed when the offending Twitter message was suddenly deleted late Friday night, E.T. time, which is early morning Saturday in South Africa. And shortly after midnight, E.T., Sacco’s entire Twitter account was gone, the New York Times said.
'We have parted ways with the employee'
By Saturday afternoon, Sacco was fired.
“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,” said Ryan Trostle, an InterActive Corp spokesman in a statement, according to CNN . "There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally."
InterActive Corp added: "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."
'I am very sorry'
Saccos appeared to take that first step Sunday. She issued an apology to South African newspaper The Star and shared it with ABC News, it read:
"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."
Sacco's apology got mixed reactions.
“Justine Sacco: Sympathy for This Twitter Devil” read the headline of Variety Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein's Opinion column Sunday.
"No one knows what IAC publicist Justine Sacco was thinking when she tweeted Friday, 'Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!' – maybe not even she herself," he wrote.'s Michael Skolnik, who is white, had another perspective. "Justine Sacco's apology reaps of white privilege," he tweeted. "An AIDS epidemic has devastated America as well…"
Sacco, who worked for IAC for more than two years, joined the company after working for the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), according to The Wrap. A 2009 news release has Sacco listed as the WWE publicist,
According to her profile on LinkedIn, Sacco earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Tulane's 2005 yearbook listed her as a junior from Los Angeles, NOLA reported.
**Update: Sacco would not confirm to Cape Argus news that her father is Joburg-based billionaire, Desmond Sacco, who is listed 20th on the Forbes List of Africa’s richest.**
What do you think? Was IAC justified in firing Justine Sacco? Let us know in the comments section below!
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