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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