How One Tweet Ruined A Career

As reported in the New York Times, Justine Sacco became an instantaneous celebrity when she sent out a Tweet prior to boarding a flight to South Africa from JFK.  Social media can be both powerful and cruel.  In this case, it changed Justine’s life.

The Tweet, along with one of the many photos of her, is shown below and can be found by merely entering her name in your favorite search engine.  Prior to sending this tweet, she likely was invisible to the search engines.


The Tweet was at best ill-advised, at worst inappropriate.  Justine should have known better – she was a senior director of corporate communications for IAC, the huge Internet brand that owns over 150 Internet companies including Vimeo, and many others.  And social media can be exceptionally cruel.

As she checked her phone, she did not see any responses to her Tweet as she only had 170 followers.

What she did not know is that while she slept on the 11 hour flight, her tweet had become the number one trending Tweet in the world.  Someone forwarded it to Sam Biddle, editor of Valley Wag and he retweeted it to his 15,000 followers.  The rest is history.

Needless to say, she lost her job and her life was turned upside down.  For more details, see the New York Times story here.

Months later she told the NY Times reporter that she couldn’t even date someone because, of course, you always Google a new date.

She went to Ethiopia for a month to hide, but then returned to look for a job in New York.  Sam Biddle found out about her new job and sent out another (nasty) Tweet to his followers:

“Sacco, who apparently spent the last month hiding in Ethiopia after infuriating our species with an idiotic AIDS joke, is now a ‘marketing and promotion’ director at Hot or Not.”  “How perfect!” he wrote. “Two lousy has-beens, gunning for a comeback together.

One year later, on the anniversary of the event, Biddle did post an apology on Gawker.

She, not surprisingly, is not alone.

This is the power of social media and it is amazing.  It can take up causes and tear down leaders.  It can also make something very small (a wisecrack to Justine’s small circle of friends) extremely large (THE #1 trending tweet in the world).

So next time you are getting ready to press the enter button on that snarky Tweet or Facebook post, think twice about it.  It could be a life altering experience.


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