Justine Sacco, a PR executive who found herself at the centre of a Twitter firestorm after posting a racist “joke”, has lost her job and been forced to apologise as a result of the scandal.
The now-former director of corporate communications at media company IAC was about to board a plane to South Africa when she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Despite Ms Sacco only having around 200 followers, the message quickly spread to online news organisations, with social media users around the world expressing their disgust.
The irony of a supposed public relations expert tweeting such an insensitive comment, and the fact it could not be corrected during a 12-hour flight without an internet connection, meant the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was soon trending on the social media site.
Once Ms Sacco had been pictured landing at Cape Town International by Twitter user @Zac_R, the fallout was swift. She first deleted the offending tweet, then her whole Twitter account, before finally removing her entire online presence – Facebook and Instagram included.
After IAC first removed her details from their site and then said they had “parted ways with the employee in question”, Ms Sacco issued a full apology via South African newspaper The Star.
According to ABC reports, she said: “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 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.
“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.”
Ms Sacco’s company IAC, which runs popular websites including OKCupid, The Daily Beast, Vimeo and Tinder, responded quickly following news of the “offensive comment”.
“There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally,” IAC 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.”
While the story of Ms Sacco’s tweet sparked a huge number of angry responses across social media, many users have said something good can come of it in the form of raised awareness for Aids charities.
At one point the Aid for Africa website actually crashed due to a traffic overload, and the address www.justinesacco.com was bought and redirected to a page where users can make a donation to the charity.
The top 10 Twitter gaffes of 2013
The top 10 Twitter gaffes of 2013
1/10 In at number 10: After an interview with the MP Rachel Reeves, Newsnight producer Ian Katz thought she was ‘snoring boring’. Unfortunately, he published this opinion to the world on Twitter
2/10 David Cameron was embarrassed by revelations that his official Twitter account followed news from a high class escorts agency – he quickly stressed that he did not manage the list of accounts personally
3/10 The Tory MP Gavin Barwell objected to an internet advert to ‘date Arab girls’ that he thought was included in a Labour press release. It was actually popping up via Google based on his own ‘interests’
4/10 Burger King’s official Twitter account was hacked earlier this year, and a series of embarrassing posts followed (such as this one). The issue was not fixed for several hours
5/10 It emerged this year that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, followed the account of a 'library for hot sex books in the Persian language'
6/10 The designer Kenneth Cole, not a stranger to controversy, decided to cash in on the Syrian crisis by making a joke about getting troops into the country. He tweeted: “Boots on the ground' or not, let's not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear”
7/10 Cereal brand Kelloggs was forced to apologise this year after it seemed to want to turn a crisis of vulnerable children into an opportunity to increase its social media reach
8/10 Cricket Australia was accused of ‘casual racism’ after tweeting this photograph of four Sikh men dressed as Teletubbies with the message: “Will the real Monty Panesar please stand up?!”
9/10 The 9-year-old “Beasts of the Southern Wild” actress Quvenzhané Wallis was universally adored at the Oscars at the start of this year – prompting the satirical news website The Onion to tweet that she was ‘kind of a c***’. It later apologised and promised to review its social media policy
10/10 The most shocking Twitter gaffe of the year was surely this series of tweets from the recipe and cooking advice website Epicurious. It tried to use the Boston Bombing as a marketing hook to get people to read about cranberry scones – and later apologised only for ‘seeming’ offensive.