IAC Fires PR Chief Justine Sacco After Firestorm over AIDS Tweet

IAC Fires PR Chief Justine Sacco

Exec issues apology for racially loaded tweet, which unleashed a torrent of outrage on social-media service

IAC said it has parted ways with Justine Sacco, who had been its senior director of corporate communications, after she posted a racially loaded message Friday on Twitter joking about AIDS in Africa.

On Friday, a tweet posted to Sacco’s account from London said, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Around midnight Eastern on Friday, first the tweet and then the account, @JustineSacco, were deleted.

In a statement released Saturday, IAC said: “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.” Several observers noted the irony of a public-relations executive for an Internet media company causing a PR crisis via an online-communications service.

UPDATE: Sacco released a statement to the media Sunday apologizing for her Twitter post, as confirmed by ABC News. “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,” she said in the statement. “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.”

Sacco’s statement continued: “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.”

The tweet stayed up most of the day Friday, as Sacco was evidently incommunicado on a 12-hour flight from London to South Africa. The 64-character post generated a broad response among Twitter users vilifying and mocking her, and the hashtag “#HasJustineLandedYet” was one of the top-trending terms Friday night.

Sacco previously had posted odd tweets — including “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?” and “I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night. #fml” — but none of those attracted widespread notice until Friday. Out of the Twitter furor over her AIDS tweet, a second meme emerged: Users began urging others to donate to AIDS charities and other aid groups and someone set up a website at justinesacco.com to solicit donations to an African relief org.

New York-based IAC — led by chairman Barry Diller — owns more than 150 Internet brands, including Ask.com, About.com, CollegeHumor Media, Electus, The Daily Beast, Match.com, HomeAdvisor and Vimeo. The company also is an investor in Aereo, the TV-streaming startup being sued by broadcasters.

IAC, in its statement on the issue, said, “There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. 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.”

The PR exec joined IAC in September 2011, after working as a publicist at WWE. She is a graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans. Sacco’s father is a wealthy South African businessman and she was born in the country.

Sacco’s Twitter profile had read: “CorpComms at IAC. Troublemaker on the side. Also known for my loud laugh.”

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  1. Doris says:

    Sorry such a smart lady had a terrible lapse especially in the PR field.

  2. Lisa says:

    It’s funny when I heard about this (well after the fact, btw. Apparently I’m not up on scandals enough), my first thought was “what a racist, stupid comment!” But then I thought, what if she was being ironic..in that “I don’t have to worry about getting AIDS because they care more for someone like me (white) than they do for a black South African”?

    I think it’s possible, no? Well, I guess we’ll never know…

  3. Eduardo Palacio says:

    Well………..When are going to learn how can you be affected by any comments , personally or in Internet , jokes too are no “jokes” any more,politically correctness it’s here to stay be aware! !! Merry Christmas Happy New Year. ….If you may I say that……I Am self employed please don’t contact my accounts or call “ICE” I love to stay I USA as free man!!!! OK Happy Holidays I Am taking a vacation………..

  4. Ron Geraci says:

    This is a freak event, not a sobering warning to other professionals —

    The Justine Sacco Story: It Won’t Happen to You

  5. Michael Co says:

    It’s almost 2014 and you’d think people would be smarter about issues such as race and AID. Obviously, in this woman’s case, that isn’t so. Guess this PR expert is going to need the help of someone who is better at PR than she is.

  6. Derek says:

    She also tweeted having a sex dream with an autistic boy; wrote about a smelly German passenger; how she loves animals but will skin one herself when the weather’s too cold and ‘joked’ about hurricane evacuees in New Orleans. It was just a matter of time before this odious ‘public relations’ woman went too far.

    • Well, then, if she offended your sensibilities, of course you were right to join the mob.

      • Lenny says:

        This all happened so fast . . . . got up this morning, read the news and realized I don’t even know who I’m supposed to boycott and here it is all over but the ritual dragging of the corpse through the virtual streets. I miss everything!!! I go to bed too early!!! I work for a living and haven’t figured out how to twit yet.

  7. A great victory for 100,000 bullies over one small woman. Take a bow, Twitterverse!

    • Mike says:

      Interesting that you focused on the fact that she was one “small little woman”. Take a bow sexist pig!

    • Lenny says:

      Kinda reminds me of the end of the movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, where one lone un-snatched human tries to pass for snatched. All of a sudden, un-snatched human betrays a human trait (in this case, a near terminal stupidity and an outburst of Lapse of Self-Awareness Syndrome) and the crowd turns, mouths open, eyes wide and arms extended in offender’s direction to ‘out’ the intruder. The film goes to black.

      What a world we live in. I’m glad I twit nor, nor do I face the dreaded book. I have a human weakness or two (poor facial recognition skills, lack of fashion sense, short term memory deficits and an endearing tendency to think I can pass for normal if you give me half a chance) and would hate to have the mob at my virtual door as a result of magnifying these (and other unmentioned and unseemly) deficits in the social media whirl.

    • Rob says:

      She put it out there, she should have to face whatever comes her way. You can be a racist behind closed doors, or offline, but if you post in on a social media forum you get all you deserve.

  8. Paul Lane says:

    Maybe A&E and the Duck Dynasty crew can hire her?

  9. jackxp99 says:

    Haha, theres someone that just wants to get fired.

  10. bobo says:

    Her father being a wealthy south african, she needs to realize one thing, their wealth was made on the backs of poor africans, if she’s white south African, product of apartheid

  11. Jose Crespo says:

    Daughter of a wealthy south african white businessman ??? smells like apartheid is still alive…

  12. John Shea says:

    Stupid, yes. Hateful, no. Maybe Phil Robertson will hire her.

  13. It is rare, this day in age, that a comment gets me to go into my high pitch voice. I mean, that comment was so bad that, if she would have said her account was hacked, it would have been totally believable. Of course, it doesn’t help that she has a history of these kind of… “off color” remarks. What I find funny, though, is that people like her say these things SOLELY for the purpose of shocking people and getting a reaction. No one should be shocked that, if they say something nasty, ON A PUBLIC FORUM, there is actually a chance that it will go viral. It’s hysterical that people literally tracked her flight and someone was there to snap her picture when she got off the flight. People need to wake up to the new world of Social Media and COMMUNICATIONS. How did she get her job? LOLLOL

  14. Jere Smith says:

    Well boo hoo!

  15. wendywie says:

    Dit is op wendywie herblogden reageerde:
    That’s the only right thing to do!!!

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