Bad PR

Friday, December 20, 2013 - 04:20 PM

Justine Sacco does corporate communications for IAC, the parent company for  Tinder, OkCupid, CollegeHumor,, and Vimeo. 

Today, right before hopping on a plane, she tweeted this, which is currently going viral. 

People are very angry. IAC, her company, is in a weird position. Because she does seem to actually be on a long flight, they're having to act without talking to their employee who made a racist, idiotic joke. They emailed Valleywag to say that "This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter and we are taking appropriate action.”

If you scroll through Sacco's feed, you get the sense that she's someone who does something a lot of people do in their private lives. She's practices a brand of irreverent humor that presupposes that the speaker and her audience are so sophisticated that even if the jokes they're making are offensive, that offensiveness is just the joke. Often these jokes are supposed to be meta-racist, or meta-ablist, or meta-something, but usually they're just what they look like.

Sacco's a self-professed fan of a lot of comedians who pull off the tightrope-walk she's attempting -- Lena Dunham, Louis CK, and Rob Delaney for instance. Twitter brings out the amateur comedian in a lot of us, most people bomb more quietly. 

The strange thing is, Sacco's earlier tweets seem as good a candidate for the kind of outrage she generated today, but those tweets were fav'd and retweeted by journalists.

I don't know. Alex, my colleague, said this was not worth writing about: "What's the story? It's just outrage traffic, and there's nothing interesting about a stupid person saying a stupid thing." He's probably mostly right. (Sorry Alex! Sorry reader!)

But if you want to take one thing out of today's Twitter scandal, it's worth scrolling through Sacco's feed for awhile and thinking about which of her stupid jokes sound like something someone you know would say. Usually I have more sympathy with people who end up on the wrong side of an angry Twitter mob. This time, I sort of think the scandal is less that she got in trouble today and more that she didn't get in trouble before.


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Comments [7]


These folks need to get a sense of humor. Any person with the IQ of a dead Knat would know this was just an offhand comment i.e.. JOKE!! Get a fucking life.

Dec. 22 2013 12:08 PM
Andrew from Twin Cities, Minnesota

I have 8,000+ tweets to my name dating back to February 2010. If I was to go back through them, one by one, I'm sure many would make me blush. I'm sure some might even cost me my job. (Side note: Like Ms. Sacco, I also work in PR. But that's my job — not my life.)

I agree with your take, P.J. This is another case of outrage porn. The angry mob attacks because the angry mob can! It gets back to your earlier essay about hoaxes. Do we want to continue with this practice of getting worked up about nothing and crucifying people for bad, but ultimately inconsequential judgment?

It would seem someone like Ms. Sacco would suffer more if she was just ignored.

Dec. 21 2013 02:05 PM

I'm now just a little bummed that clicking on her twitter account I get an internal server error message.

Dec. 21 2013 11:59 AM
Erik R. from Colindres, Spain

Mark my words. 2014 is the Year of the Twitter Scandal.

Dec. 20 2013 05:44 PM
Mike Patterson from Fleetwood, NY

I'm seriously intrigued by the very idea that any statement I might make may somehow be misconstrued as being as statement that "reflects the views" of my employer! It's really a concept that is off the charts insane. At what point in our existence did my voice and the voice of my company become the same voice? Admittedly in this case (her being in PR) is a little touchy, but even still, the outrage seems slightly out of step with reality. Just seems crazy to me!

Dec. 20 2013 05:28 PM
John from NYC

So you get that the offensiveness was probably the joke, but decided to pile on for the clicks anyway?


Dec. 20 2013 05:22 PM

I'm not gonna read through her feed -- I've got 30 versions of White Christmas to listen to!! -- but I kinda feel like if you do corporate communications you might wanna be more circumspect in what you post.

"Would I say this in a [board meeting | senior staff meeting | to my grandmother]?" (Pick one. Or two, depending on the level of dysfunction in your life.)

Dec. 20 2013 05:19 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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