social mediaJustine Sacco has been back in the news of late, with a feature story in The New York Times Magazine as well as coverage in Gawker and BuzzFeed. For those unfamiliar with Sacco’s cautionary tale, let me refresh your memory.

A little over a year ago, Justine Sacco was the global head of communications for the digital media conglomerate IAC. Before getting on a plane for a trip to South Africa, she tweeted the following: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White!”

To say that Sacco’s tweet set off an internet firestorm would be an understatement. The story dominated the news cycle, blogosphere and social media.

Sacco was in the air on an 11-hour flight, unable to realize what she’d done or delete the tweet. As Gawker wrote: “Several hours later she emerged into an unfathomable modern multimedia hell-nightmare and was quickly and summarily fired.”

The New York Times Magazine piece examines whether Sacco’s fate would have been different had Sam Biddle not picked up on tweet. Biddle was then editor of Valleywag, Gawker’s tech-industry blog. He retweeted it to his 15,000 followers and eventually posted it on Valleywag with the headline, “And Now, a Funny Holiday Joke From IAC’s P.R. Boss.” Biddle explained his reasoning for picking up on the tweet in January 2014: “The fact that she was a P.R. chief made it delicious,” he wrote.

PR professionals should pay close attention to Sacco’s plight because what happened to her could happen to anyone. Eleven hours is an eternity on the internet, and by the time she was able to react, the damage had already been done. And that’s the key, swift action is a must.  In most cases, you can delete your tweet or apologize before your social media gaffe reaches the epic proportions of Sacco’s tweet.

 

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