While public relations professionals are supposed to help brands and people maintain their image while in the limelight, they themselves have a spot of bad press at times. Take Justine Sacco for example. The PR professional outraged the world and also lost her job, thanks to some reckless tweeting over the weekend.
Sacco, employed with InterActiveCorp, a media conglomerate in New York, was about to depart for Cape Town on Friday and sent out what she thought was a witty tweet. “Going to Africa,” she wrote. “Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!” The highly insensitive tweet went viral within hours. Check out some reactions to her now-deleted tweet:
Justine about to have a sad Christmas RT @JustineSacco Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!
— Desus (@desusnice) December 20, 2013
So…who's job is it to clean things up if the head of PR at a — wait for it — big media company makes the mess? https://t.co/33KBafzaZr
— Maya Baratz (@mbaratz) December 20, 2013
This #JustineSacco sums up the sheer arrogance of those whose entire sense of worth is locked up in the color of their skin
— Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini) December 20, 2013
The worst bit was that Sacco switched off her phone as she was on a flight to South Africa, essentially meaning that she not only missed all the hullabaloo that took place because of her tweet, but also lost out on a chance to indulge in some damage control and delete the tweet. When outraging masses on Twitter realised this, they kicked off a new hashtag called #HasJustineLandedYet and tracked the movements of her flight to Cape Town. The hashtag went on to trend in many countries worldwide, including India.
— Daniel Perez (@Munx1er) December 21, 2013
— Kathleen Smith (@KikkiPlanet) December 21, 2013
The hashtag became embroiled in yet another – minor – controversy when Gogo, a network provider to stay connected while on flights tweeted out, “Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight! CC: @JustineSacco.” Needless to say, Gogo apologised as soon as users pointed out that the tweet seemed insensitive.
As far as Sacco goes, the shock when she landed was so massive that she deleted her Twitter and Facebook profiles promptly, without offering an immediate explanation for her actions. She later released a statement, apologising for her tweet. “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.
This however, did not stop IAC from sacking her. Pays to mind your p's and q's while in the business of communications.