By Joe Flint
1:27 PM EST, December 21, 2013
This post has been updated. See below for details.
A communications executive for media mogul Barry Diller went from relative obscurity to global pariah after an insensitive tweet about AIDS and Africa went viral.
Justine Sacco, a director of communications at Diller's IAC, whose holdings include television production company Electus, dating sites Match.com and OKCupid as well as the video site Vimeo, tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Then she boarded a flight from London to Africa and all heck broke loose on Twitter as her tweet circulated way beyond the few hundred followers she had and became news. IAC issued a statement condemning Sacco's tweet, calling it an "outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC." She has subsequently been relieved of her duties.
Sacco, who previously worked in communications for Vince McMahon's wrestling company WWE, was even greeted in Africa by someone who had been following the tweets. She became a trending topic on Twitter and a hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet spread like wildfire, with people berating her insensitivity and anticipating what life would be like for her after the plane landed.
This isn't the first time Sacco tweeted something that is inappropriate and questionable for someone working in such a high-profile position. Last year she tweeted about having a dream involving sex with someone with autism. Her account has now been shut down.
The level of outrage toward Sacco on the Internet had some media pundits wondering if the mob mentality that emerged was as disturbing as her tweet.
"On a late-December Friday night, an online lynch-mob destroyed the reputation, career, and life of a young woman and private citizen, and did so without the benefit of the doubt or hearing her side of the story," wrote John Nolte on the blog Breitbart. As for Sacco's attempts at humor, he added, "is it now just BURN THE WITCH! for not being terribly effective at being Sarah Silverman?"
Sacco released an apology Sunday. "Words can not 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." She added that she was born in South Africa and is "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."
For the record: This post was updated to include that IAC has fired Sacco and her subsequent apology.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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