Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Social Media: Your Friend or Your Enemy?

In July 2010 - a prominent very respected long-time CNN reporter Octavia Nasr was fired.

Octavia Nasr's CNN bio describes her as: "A leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting, Nasr’s latest reporting on the elections in Iran and their fallout served as a backdrop to showcase her expertise in both traditional as well as social-media-driven content."

And then she was fired for a Tweet, that, supposedly "outraged people".
It's ironic, then, that Octavia was fired Wednesday for a Tweet.

Granted, the tweet that did her in was one lamenting the death of a leader of Hezbollah, which the U.S. government recognizes as a terrorist organization. 

"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot," she wrote.

And even though Nasr subsequently apologized for the remark, clarifying in a blog post on CNN.com that she did not support Fadlallah's life's work, which includes the support of suicide bombings against Israel, but rather his "pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights." She also wrote that she had learned "a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East."

It's an issue that's resonating throughout the media world as more news organizations put pressure on their journalists to use social media - Twitter in particular - as a way to promote their work and create a brand around their bylines.

It is not clear, however, that Nasr's Tweet violated CNN's social media policy. But according to the sources, CNN has a specific social media policy, which, apparently didn't compile with Nasr's tweet. It "did not meet CNN's editorial standards" and Nasr's "credibility ... has been compromised."

In the same year, Oct. 2010 - Rick Sanchez was fired. The CNN anchor and host of Rick's List, said he thought Comedy Central's Jon Stewart was a "bigot," and seemed to suggest that "everybody who runs CNN" is Jewish.

Sanchez, during the course of a 20 minute interview on comedian (and regular CNN contributor) Pete Dominick's SiriusXM radio show, spoke about the discrimination he has felt as a Cuban-American over the course of his career, and decried what he called "elite, Northeast establishment liberals" like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

"I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart," Sanchez said. "To imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah." - said Sanchez.
Sanchez later tempered his comments, retracting his use of the word "bigot" and instead calling the Daily Show "essentially prejudicial - against anyone who doesn't agree with his point of view, which is very much a white liberal establishment point of view."

If you think that being a non-reporter, you - as an individual and professional (of any industry) - can getaway with the STUFF that a more public figure can't, you are wrong. It could happen to you too.

In April 2009, Connor Riley, a 22-year-old pursuing her master's degree in information management and systems at University of California, Berkeley was fired from her company for her post on her personal Facebook page.

It all started with an innocent "tweet" - a post to the micro-blogging site Twitter. Riley wrote:
"Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work".

And the next thing you know, Cisco employee Tim Levad saw the post and responded with his own tweet:

"Who is the hiring manager? I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web".

That exchange exploded into what is now known as the "Cisco Fatty" incident - other Twitterers picked up the posts, and soon the Internet was all atwitter about a prospective employee who squandered a job opportunity in this dire economy for saying something stupid online. Riley ended up writing a post on her personal blog apologizing for her tweet, explaining that she was being sarcastic and that she'd actually already turned down the offer.

You might think - so what, she hasn't really had a job yet, so there was no "job loss" here...But a lesson has been learned, hasn't it?

These incidents raise a question that all of us should ask - no matter what you do and where you work - CAN SOCIAL MEDIA GET YOUR FIRED?

YES - it can!

What you post online, whether it's on your personal blog or at a social networking site, matters. (Who can forget Heather Armstrong, who got fired several years ago for writing about her job on her personal blog, Dooce.com? The episode launched the phrase "getting dooced" to mean being fired for blogging about work.) 

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook do pose a big threat, because even when you limit your circle of friends, the word gets around. And by "word" I mean - friends share links/comments/photos/posts among each other, and each of your friends has his/her own circle of friends, and those friends - have theirs...So, your comment and/or photo could very well be circulated to the degree, when it could safely and easily launch on a Facebook page of your boss.

Never ever underestimate the power of social networks...That's why there are so many websites are dedicated to not only educate you about the "threats" of exposing and compromising yourself on social networking sites, but also provide you with helpful tips on how to avoid it.

So next time you post something online, be cautious. Assume the everyone in the world can read it - and would you really want them to?

It happens more often than you think. How safe one can be? Many reporters swear by the First Amendment rights. However, as hypocritical as it might sound for many outspoken journalists and individuals out there, in the country as free as USA, it's still lacking complete free speech. People still get fired for being outspoken and reflecting on the issues that touch them deeply and passionately. They still get fired and criticized for expressing their opinions and sharing them with the others - sans preaching.

In case of Nasr, CNN's policy says that you [reporter/employee] "should not be commenting or writing about what goes on in the workplace at CNN without specific approval by CNN senior managers". "You should not be writing on the social networking sites/blogs about what goes on behind the scenes at CNN". And THAT applies to all workplaces.

Are we in denial that we are still far from reaching the "free press" state of mind that we - as a nation - "preach" to other countries with a state-controlled media? ...Where to draw a line - what reporters can or can NOT write on their personal social networks/microblogs? Ask your management.

What are the guidelines for the personal blogs of journalists? What are the guidelines for other professionals?

If you ask me, it happened to all of us. And when it does - we go back and erase those things that could compromise not only "us", but also - "them". And if you really, really want to share something with your friends, just talk to them "off the record" - face to face, voice on voice...

So, if you don't hear from me tomorrow, I've been fired... I'll let you know about it via my "free speech" networks, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook... or should I NOT?

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