Yesterday afternoon, Justine Sacco, the senior director of communications at Barry Diller's IAC, tweeted something ignorant and offensive just before taking off on a long flight from London to Cape Town. With Sacco in the air — and, apparently, without Wi-Fi — the post went viral, and a portion of the Twitter community spent the entire night discussing the matter.
First, there was her (since deleted) Twitter account to pore over. It revealed a pattern of cringe-worthy updates @JustineSacco might have thought twice about publishing. Some examples, courtesy of BuzzFeed:
I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night. #fml
— Justine Sacco (@JustineSacco) February 24, 2012
“Weird German Dude: You’re in first class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.” -Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.
— Justine Sacco (@JustineSacco) December 20, 2013
I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?
— Justine Sacco (@JustineSacco) January 30, 2013
Then there was IAC’s statement, denouncing Sacco's "outrageous, offensive" language. Its highly specific conclusion — "Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action." — struck Twitter as particularly amusing. Soon, #HasJustineLandedYet was born, bringing with it exhaustive speculation as to what might happen once the flight made it to South Africa.
Of course, no social phenomenon would be complete without a brand trying to jump on the bandwagon. In this case, a Wi-Fi provider decided to hype their in-flight services:
(The company soon apologized for getting involved.)
Finally, in a brilliant and productive move, the charity Aid for Africa took over JustineSacco.com, redirecting curious visitors to the foundation's own donation page.
Eventually, she did land. Twitter user @Zac_R posted a photo of a woman he claimed was Sacco shortly after her arrival in Cape Town. (He also claimed to have spoken to her father, who told him he raised his daughter in the United States because their native South Africa is "too racist.")
Justine and her sister / friend. She's on the phone to someone. "No! I really didn't think it would!" She said. pic.twitter.com/HAMxdquPOG— Zac (@Zac_R) December 21, 2013
When Sacco's Twitter account and Facebook page disappeared, the masses turned to her LinkedIn and Instagram feed. At Mashable, Chris Taylor described the dangers of this "trial by social media":
“You could argue she did it to herself — all those pictures in the album ‘Too Much Swagger for White Girls (Miami '10)’ are in the public part of her Facebook Timeline, after all. Then you could also read the hateful comments recently placed all over her Instagram feed, including on pictures of her child. That's when you might realize this whole thing has gone too far. There's a fine line between slamming Sacco for her blatant what-guys-I-was-just-kidding buffoonery, and taking an unconscionable delight in the misfortune of others while playing Big Brother on their lives.”
What Sacco tweeted is reprehensible, and she will probably lose her job over it. It's just too bad so many people had to spend the Friday night before Christmas talking about this ugliness.
Update: Sacco has been fired. "We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question. There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally," said IAC in a statement. "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." Happy holidays, everyone.