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PR Exec Tweet Unwisely Defies Our Stylized PPT Video Advice



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by Kenneth Rudich

On 6 December 2013, we posted a short (50 second) Stylized PowerPoint Video titled, A Stylized PPT Video with a Holiday Care Message for All.  The advice given in the video is to beware mixing social media with alcohol, and also avoid drinking and driving (we should note that the creative treatment for delivering this message makes the video intriguing to watch).  It concludes by saying: “Give yourself the best ride you can possibly have – a fond recollection without any regrets.”


Little did we know that in a few days’ time we’d be handed a real-life example for vividly showing why this message is both timely and relevant – and more importantly, what can happen if one fails to heed it.

1 Part Social Media

On 20 December 2013, Justine Sacco, head of corporate communications for IAC (the media company chaired by Barry Diller that operates websites like The Daily Beast,, CollegeHumor and, ignited a firestorm when she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” prior to departing on a vacation.

Before the close of the next day, the tweet had gone viral.

As CNN reported, “By the time she landed 12 hours later, the message had been magnified by a social media mob and Sacco’s employer, IAC/InterActiveCorp, had distanced itself from her.  On Saturday her Twitter account disappeared and neither Sacco nor IAC had anything more to say — perhaps disappointing the many angry Twitter users who were expecting her to be fired on the spot over the offensive tweet.

The incident — Boing Boing called it ‘the tweet heard round the world’ — was a glaring reminder that every word uttered on the Internet can be heard by seemingly everyone on the Internet, sometimes with serious consequences.”

Another corporate communications representative for IAC issued a statement that tried to address the online controversy.

“This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC,” the company said. “Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”

1 Part Alcohol

After someone else scanned Sacco’s past tweets, this notable post came to light: “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”

And this one too: “I had a sex dream about an autistic kid last night.”

A Toxic Mix

We don’t know for certain if any of these tweets were made while under the influence — though oddly enough, it would be somewhat reassuring if they had been; otherwise it reveals a potentially deeper problem than just a mere moment of chemically-impaired judgment.

Either way, look at the position she put herself in, and look at the position she put her employer in.

To wit: the latest headline, as of 22 December 2013, reads: ‘Ashamed': Ex-PR exec Justine Sacco apologizes for AIDS in Africa tweet

Her prospect for a fond recollection without any regrets for this holiday season can now be completely forgotten – because of a tweet that probably took less than thirty seconds to draft and send, no less.

“Lying in Wait”

With this incident as a backdrop, we’d like to amend the message contained in our original holiday video to this: Always exercise caution and prudence when using social media.  Remember, it’s lying in wait, and the world is watching.

P.S. – Do you think that firing her was the best way for the employer to handle this situation?

One commenter offered this advice for other employers to ponder: “I personally wouldn’t have fired her. I own a small business too. I would have publically reprimanded her, and then made her do SOMETHING to help the plight of those with AIDS.  I would have turned it into something useful.

Too much hate in this world. Just too much. Its [sic] sick.”

P.S.S. – While a lapse like this can precipitate serious consequences, there’s no greater twist than for the original author to be turned into the brunt of the joke when all is said and done – as shown in this comment:

Sacco (v.) To embark on a plane with a job, and get fired by the time the plane lands.

Example of usage:
“I’m going to be doing some serious drinking on this flight, so I better not connect to the wi-fi. I don’t want to get saccoed!”



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