Some describe it as “the tweet heard around the world” while others view it as a nightmare before Christmas. Indeed, things are unfolding badly for Justine Sacco at the moment. The PR executive-no-more lost her job after she sent a reprehensible tweet that associated her visit to Africa with acquiring AIDS — and with a racial twist to boot.
Before stepping on a plane in London to be whisked away to Cape Town for vacation, Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!” Once she landed, her twitter followers had exponentially expanded in size as did unfavorable attention while the media company she worked for, IAC, had decided to let her go.
"The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question," an IAC spokesman said in a statement. "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."
To harness the widespread upheaval, the website www.justinesacco.com was created, and automatically links to the nonprofit group, Aid for Africa. The organization has seen a significant increase in donations but clarify that they had nothing to do with this strategy of using “Sacco’s blunder toward positive action on AIDS prevention in Africa.” They explain in a statement that “Sacco’s tweet speaks to a lack of understanding about Africa and AIDS, and reinforces an uninformed tendency to link AIDS and Africa whenever one or the other is mentioned. It is particularly unfortunate because progress is being made to combat AIDS in Africa by Aid for Africa member organizations and others.”
Out of all the AIDS cases around the world, 60 percent exist in Sub-Saharan Africa, which equates to a total of 22 million people in the region having HIV/AIDS, according to Aid in Africa’s website. That part of the globe also accounts for 72 percent of AIDS-related deaths.
According to the South African Medical Research Council, stigma is an all too common reaction that people have toward disease. “Throughout history many diseases have carried considerable stigma, including leprosy, tuberculosis, cancer, mental illness, and many sexually transmitted diseases,” they explain on their website. “HIV/AIDS is only the latest disease to be stigmatized.”
The source of this stigma often stems from fear of falling ill, fear of the respective contagion, and fear of death, the council writes. “Stigma is one means of coping with the fear that contact with a member of an affected group will result in contracting the disease,” they add. “One would expect stigma to decrease with increased visibility of HIV, but this is not the case, especially in much of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Justine Sacco issued a written apology “for being insensitive to this crisis”, describing her tweet as “needless and careless.”