In 2013, Justine Sacco was preparing to board a flight to visit family in South Africa over the holidays. As she was waiting by the gate during the final leg of her trip, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She laughed as anyone else would laugh at their own jokes and carried on her way to being seated on the flight. Sacco boarded the flight and started to sleep since it was going to take 11 hours to reach her destination. After she reached her destination, she opened her phone to find multiple confusing texts, an old friend felt sorry for what she was going through and her best friend sent a message asking Sacco to call back immediately.
Sacco’s twitter feed became a slaughterhouse for Sacco’s reputation. Her tweet during the trip destroyed her name and the online community started to attack her with no hesitation. What made things worse is that she is the senior director of corporate communications at IAC, a public relations company. There were a few tweets asking people to post pictures of her when she landed at the Airport. A twitter user actually did go and take a picture of Sacco and post it on twitter stating she was trying to hide with her sunglasses.
Justine Sacco’s reputation was beyond destroyed, she was labelled as an inconsiderate idiot. The online community was not playing nice with her statements. Especially when people have anonymity, they never hold back.
This tweet exploded and ended up loosing her job and friends in the process. She almost lost her family back in Africa who are African National Congress supporters, the Nelson Mandela party; they were also longtime activists for racial equity. Justine Sacco gave out a public apology on what happened; however, it didn’t change the minds of her bosses. She was let go soon after the incident and especially being part of a PR firm, they couldn’t keep her on because it would have been suicidal for the company. Imagine a reputation management company forgave an employee for a public racial comment; it would be quite ironic.
The internet destroyed Sacco’s life and reputation that she built over time. Granted, she was the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Africa, but she did many things on her own and got that job by earning it instead of using her family ties to win it over.
Justine Sacco was later interviewed by someone from the New York Times. They wanted to hear her side of the story. When speaking with her, they realized that she did not believe those words to be literal. In fact, after meeting up with Sacco and talking for a whole day, she said that joke was a way for being sarcastic and commentating on the fact that Americans live in their own world or bubble while they ignore the rest of the planets problems. The major problem here is the fact that the readers took the message quite literally. Even so, that shouldn’t warrant anyone to share their damaging thoughts and beliefs in public.