How to Ruin Your Career in One Tweet: What We Can All Learn From Justine Sacco

On Friday there was a fascinating drama unfolding on Twitter. It wasn’t a tweet war between celebrities, it wasn’t a collection of cute kitten pics, it was the destruction of a woman’s career happening in real time for all to see.

If you weren’t checking out Twitter on Friday, you may have missed the downfall of Justine Sacco, a PR executive who is a senior director of corporate communications at the digital holding company IAC (they own such sites as About.com, Match.com, Vimeo, CollegeHumor, OkCupid and Urbanspoon). She is also a mother. Before she hopped on a plane to Africa she tweeted the following item:

justine-sacco-hed-2013

Yes, she actually tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” A questionable and insensitive “joke.”  And here is where things get interesting. After her plane took off, her tweet went totally viral with the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trending worldwide. People were completely glued, waiting for Justine Sacco to land at her destination. It was a long journey as Mashable notes – a “wi-fi-free plane journey — 11 hours, 20 minutes on British Airways.” There were hilarious memes (like this one, this one and this one).  Online pundits piped in along with big companies like online internet provider Gogo who wrote, “Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight! CC: @JustineSacco.” Then reporters started to write to Sacco’s employer, who were not thrilled with her online behavior.

A rep told ValleyWag: “This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”

And while this was all going on, Sacco was blissfully unaware in her airplane seat. And as the world waited, she finally landed. And she did what anyone would do in this situation. She deleted the tweet. And then she quickly deleted her entire Twitter account. But it was way too late for that. The damage had been done and screenshots of her tweet had been shared countless times.

What makes the whole scenario even more disturbing is that this woman is in PR. She is in the business of public image and communicating to the masses, but it’s evidently a job she’s not very good at.  She has pretty much ended her career in one thoughtless, tasteless tweet. But while she may have significantly altered her life in that one tweet, it is a teachable moment for the rest of us. A simple lesson that one must “think before you tweet.”

Our kids are growing up during a time when they could easily damage their lives or others via social media. It’s something we have seen time and time again from cyberbullying to sharing very personal information or images. The online behavior of Justine Sacco just proves that these online mistakes can happen at any age from teens to media professionals.

And while this story is just sad in its stupidity, something good may have come out of this. Some thoughtful soul bought the domain JustineSacco.com and had the traffic redirect to the Aid for Africa donation page.

Have you ever shared something on social media that you have later regretted?

UPDATE: Justine Sacco has apologized. She wrote in a statement to 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. 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 crisiswhich does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformlyand 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.”

She was also fired from her job.

InterActive Corp, her employer issued a statement to ABC News on Saturday.

“There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally,” the InterActive Corp statement said. “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.”

 

 

Tagged as: ,

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Learn More.