When Justine Sacco sent out a tweet about her impending trip to Africa just prior to her flight from Heathrow taking off, she may have thought she was being cheeky or risqué. It’s unlikely however that she expected to kick off an international bout of Twitter outrage.
In the Tweet, subsequently deleted, Sacco jokes about not having to worry about contracting HIV in Africa because of the colour of her skin:
The tweet immediately provoked anger across the Twittersphere. Sacco, who is a PR executive at media giant InterActiveCorp (better known as IAC) was, of course, unaware that any of this was happening given that she was in the air. The situation led to the spawning of the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet
— Andi Zeisler (@andizeisler) December 21, 2013
— Pugoleon (@cultofthepug) December 21, 2013
— Nerdy Wonka (@NerdyWonka) December 21, 2013
Is she there yet? Is she there yet? #HasJustineLandedYet
— CK (@GoodGirlRoxy) December 20, 2013
It appears that in the face of the reaction, Sacco’s Twitter account was indeed deleted.
Before that could happen though, members of the online community had managed to find a few choice examples of Sacco’s other tweets, which included missives about one of her fellow first class passengers’ body odour and dreams of sexual encounters with autistic people.
Unlike many Twitter storms however, a glimmer of hope appears to be emerging from this one.
— cassandra (@CassandraRules) December 21, 2013
Other tweeters meanwhile have encouraged their followers to donate to South African-based non-profits such as the Treatment Action Campaign, which deals predominantly with issues around HIV and Aids.
Again: Make your anger count in a real way – the Treatment Action Campaign fights the good fight http://t.co/8sTp28x2QM
— Africa is a Country (@AfricasaCountry) December 21, 2013
.@joeblackzw I never said "get over it". Anger is appropriate. Death threats not. And we should channel anger to TAC donations or other…
— Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes) December 21, 2013
— Zac (@Zac_R) December 21, 2013
Others still chastened Twitter users for the kind of mob mentality they displayed in the wake of the incident:
The tweet was bad. Timing was bad. Mob mentality was bad. Her prospects are bad. Just. Bad. #HasJustineLandedYet
— Ibrahim Batambuze (@Mr_Bata_) December 21, 2013
— Fulana de Tal (@soulamami) December 21, 2013
Interestingly, it appears that Sacco only had around 400 followers prior to her account being deleted. While it’s unusual for someone so low-profile to cause an international Twitter storm of this magnitude, it is a pertinent reminder of how quickly something can spread on the social network.
As a number of people noted, it’s also a potent reminder of why everyone should watch what they post on the social network:
Social Media Rule #7: "If you're willing to put it on a billboard, you can post it" #hasjustinelandedyet
— Kelvin Jonck (@KelvinJonck) December 21, 2013
Good Twitter rule of thumb: "If Richard Pryor couldn't do this joke in 10 minutes, you can't do it in 140 characters." #HasJustineLandedYet
— Anil Dash (@anildash) December 21, 2013
I think this is where we learn to forgive and forget. She is genuinely sorry and made a silly mistake. We all make silly mistakes.
— Marc Forrest (@MarcForrest) December 21, 2013