For Justine Sacco, her career ended with this single tweet. “The tweet heard round the world,” said Boing Boing. It was most likely sent with a devil-may-care attitude, judging by Sacco’s prior tweets about tweeting while intoxicated, having a sex dream about an autistic kid, and complaining about a German man’s body odor.
Justine Sacco was on a 12-hour flight from London to South Africa when her casual-sounding tweet, sent Friday, went viral. Reportedly, she did not have Wi-Fi access during that time. She probably thought it’d go over without much attention as she had fewer than 500 followers but lo and behold, if she didn’t know that tweeting grossly insensitive, incredibly stupid tweets didn’t matter, well, she knows now–all too well. Sacco was fired Saturday by IAC, the media company where she worked as the head of corporate communications. IAC put out a statement, saying: “There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally.”
After Sacco landed in South Africa, her Twitter account was deleted. It is not known whether IAC or Sacco herself deleted the account. Her Facebook account is also inaccessible, but didn’t become so until Sacco evidently posted this.
Little did Sacco know the furor she would cause. (Threats of rape and murder are never OK, obviously, so I feel sorry for Sacco in this regard.) Is it surprising that she was surprised by vitriolic reaction? No, because her previous tweets were made with the same sort of casualness, an obliviousness to the world at large. Her father is a billionaire; why would she have to suffer any consequences? Justine Sacco is white, visiting family in South Africa for the holidays, and completely inured to the AIDS epidemic. She’s white. Why should she even care what’s happening in her native South Africa? She can’t get AIDS because she’s white. Evidently, the elder Sacco was furious with his daughter’s tweet, calling it “unforgivable.”
Not everyone was vitriolic in their responses, however; some actually felt sorry for Sacco because she didn’t have the opportunity to defend herself. Defend herself against what, may I ask? She obviously thought her words have no impact, even while managing to offend nearly everyone on Planet Earth. For someone who worked in communications, this seems so far afield I can’t seem to grasp how this is possible. Does every company need to provide sensitivity and cultural training to their employees from now on?
In response, Sacco released a statement Sunday to The Star, a South African newspaper, expressing regret for her wildly offensive tweet:
“My greatest concern was this statement reach South Africa first. 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… 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.”
It is unfortunate Justine Sacco has to learn such a tough lesson but with every hardship comes a silver lining. Maybe this incident will teach her to be more compassionate and to think first before speaking, especially on social media. She needs to check her privilege and really think about why everyone is so upset with her. She will find another job and she will eventually be forgiven. Which is as it should be.
By Juana Poareo