(Photo credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
John Bacon and Natalie DiBlasio, USA TODAY
Justine Sacco, a public relations executive who gained almost instant infamy - and unemployment - for an insensitive tweet about AIDS in Africa, issued an apology Sunday.
Sacco was in London on Friday, headed for a vacation in South Africa, when she tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"
Sacco hopped aboard her flight, the tweet blew up and social media outrage was booming before she ever landed. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet gained traction on Twitter, taking the top trending spot for hours.
The withering social media criticism she drew is drawing almost as much attention as the tweet itself. But Sacco was all about apology on Sunday.
"Words cannot 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," Sacco said in her statement, first released to African news outlets. "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. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.
"For being insensitive to this crisis - which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly - and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed.
"This is my father's country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am 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."
Sacco is feeling some of that pain. While she was in the air and out of touch, the social media mob was descending, mocking and condemning her. Shortly after her flight landed, the Twitter account was deleted. Later, Sacco's Facebook account also was deleted.
The New York media conglomerate InterActiveCorp said Saturday it had "parted ways" with Sacco, its PR director. IAC operates a string of websites including Match.com, Vimeo, Ask.com, UrbanSpoon, OKCupid and The Daily Beast.
"There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core," the IAC statement said.
The unbridled social media assault on Sacco also has drawn notice.
"Sacco is nearly impossible to defend," wrote Mashable's Chris Taylor. "Still, it was hard to ignore a disturbing feeling in the mob's response, and something creepy in the trial by social media that was going on in her absence."
Adds The Street's Rocco Pendola: "That's the type of society we live in now. One where we use the immediacy, ubiquitousness and convenience of social media to beat the living hell out of somebody else because she (gasp) made a mistake or he took an opinion (like I am) that you know you can get others to join you in mocking and denouncing."