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Friday, December 20, 2013

A Twitter Message About AIDS, Africa and Race

A message about race and AIDS in Africa posted on the Twitter account of a public relations executive at an Internet media giant caused an outcry on Twitter and the web on Friday.

The message, from the account of Justine Sacco, the communications director for InterActiveCorp, better known as IAC, read: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

IAC is the corporate parent of more than three dozen companies, including Match.com, The Daily Beast and Dictionary.com. The company, based in New York City, also owns BlackPeopleMeet.com, a dating site for African-Americans.

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

The message, posted from London (seemingly from a location near Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5), raised questions about whether Ms. Sacco’s account had been hacked by an unauthorized user.

However, it was not the first eyebrow-raising message posted on the account that appears to belong to Ms. Sacco. An hour earlier, a message from the account said: “Chili- cucumber sandwiches- bad teeth. Back in London!”

And in a message posted 12 hours before that, she seemed to fume about a fellow passenger:

And in February 2012, she seemed to reveal the explicit contents of a recent dream:

In a short biography on Twitter, Ms. Sacco says she works in corporate communications at IAC and is a “troublemaker on the side.” In January, she posted: “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”

The message about AIDS on Friday was met with disbelief and outrage on Twitter and around the web, with some users calling Ms. Sacco a racist and predicting her resignation.

“This joke is so bad and so incredibly tasteless that it’s almost genius. Almost. But it’s not,” Alex Jurgen wrote on wwtdd.com, a blog that specializes in Internet media and gossip. “It’s just going to get this chick super fired.”

He wrote, “See you at the baggage carousel, Justine.”

But others rushed to Ms. Sacco’s defense, saying that it was likely just a joke and pointing to Africa’s AIDS crisis.

Ms. Sacco could not be reached for comment.