Justine Sacco, former director of communications at the PR firm IAC, sent the tweet heard ’round the world last Friday that ultimately lost Sacco her job:
She tweeted before getting on a business flight to South Africa, and by the time she landed hours later, the Internet was obsessed and IAC had issued an apology. The next day, she was let go from the company.
As people perused her Twitter profile, they saw that she had plenty of other offensive, crass tweets, and it didn’t take much to develop an idea of Sacco as a racist, a ditz, or a ditzy racist.
But no, argues her friend Jeff Bercovici of Forbes — she made a terrible decision she deserved to be punished for, but she’s not a bad person. She’s just really bad at Twitter.
“Justine is an easy person to like — frank, funny, quick to laugh,” he wrote. To him, she’s the kind of authentic PR person a journalist could appreciate.
They discussed Twitter over drinks a few weeks ago:
Although she’d been using the service for several years, Justine was still figuring out its nuances. One thing she’d notice was that people seemed to like the tweets that were a little bit risque or outrageous.
Bercovici remembered their conversation when he saw the backlash to her AIDS tweet. But to him, it wasn’t coming from a place of hate:
I interpreted it as a self-deprecating joke about white guilt and Western privilege — about the sheepish feeling of being physically close to tragedy while remaining safe in an economic and cultural bubble.
In her public apology, Sacco apologized for her joke that was in poor taste: “Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.”
Her father was raised in South Africa and allegedly spoke with African Twitter user Zac_R at the South African airport about how ashamed he was of his daughter’s decision.
And though her tweets are no longer retrievable, Buzzfeed collected some of her most ludicrous ones before they were deleted. Like Bercovici said, Sacco’s idea was that the best tweets were the most outrageous:
“As I sit and eat a bagel with lox, i would like to send love to my jews who are all starving themselves right now. #hungryhungryhebrews” — Oct. 8, 2011
“I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?” — Jan. 30, 2013
“I just feel like @jimmyfallon would be such a grateful lover” — Oct. 3, 2013
“‘Weird German Dude: You’re in first class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’ – Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.” — Dec. 20, 2013
Bercovici thinks that with the fatal AIDS tweet, there was obviously both “a failure of judgment and a poor attempt at expression.” He believes that Twitter as a platform lends itself to both of those cases, not just for Sacco, but all its users.
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