Posts in Media watch

Fired over a tweet, Octavia Nasr says journalists need protection from social media flame wars

Social media are easy to use, but those quick tweets and status updates can be dangerous for journalists who want to keep their jobs.

As more journalists get reprimanded or fired by employers over social media, former CNN correspondent Octavia Nasr told IJNet in an interview that employers should hold employees accountable to company standards and practices–not to the negative publicity their social media activities may generate.

In 2010, Nasr’s opinionated tweet from her official CNN account about the death of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah ended her 20-year career at CNN.

Though social media led to her ousting, Nasr still embraces it. Shortly after parting ways with CNN, she established Bridges Media Consulting which specializes in newsroom management, journalism training and social media integration.

Nasr, who says the most important milestone for Bridges is to “actually be operational,” talked to IJNet about the controversy and the pitfalls and possibilities of social media for journalists.

IJNet: What would you do differently today if you were to write that tweet about Fadlallah?

Octavia Nasr: I wouldn’t send out the tweet at all. It was not an important tweet to start with in the big scheme of things. I was on vacation, I shouldn’t have been thinking about work or sending the tweet out about Fadlallah or his relevance.

If I must tweet, I would’ve tweeted that he passed away without any extra information. Let people find out on their own who he was and what his worth was. I tried to put too much information into 140 characters while the story needed a lot of context. By doing so, I opened the door to a small but powerful and effective group of agenda-driven people to attack CNN through me.

IJNet: How did the controversy with CNN change your views on social media and how you advise your clients?

ON: It did not change anything. Quite the contrary, it confirmed all the things I already knew and was teaching (and still teach) to others about social media. I became a living example of the successes and perils of social media.

What happened with me can happen with anyone at any time, it was not what I tweeted or how I tweeted it, it was the reaction to my tweet and CNN’s response to that reaction that led to CNN and I parting ways. This is only an excuse that anyone can pull at any time and people need to be ready for it if they are using social media on behalf of their employer or any other entity.

IJNet: The social media policies for major media organizations range from very restrictive to pretty open — from “watch the retweets” (AP) to just “don’t be stupid” (BBC) – what do you think is the right balance?

ON: The right balance is to act on social media exactly the same way you do in real life knowing very well that your tweet is a permanent record. Use restraint and don’t share unnecessary information that might come back and haunt you. Of course “don’t be stupid” and “watch the retweets” are the extremes that one should avoid at any cost, but it’s the wide margin in between that concerns me and where I find most users are vulnerable.

The problem is not what you say or what you mean but rather how people perceive it, analyze it and deal with it that concerns me a lot. An innocent comment that is attacked by a major organization or group all of sudden will sound “stupid;” but if no one complains about it passes without incident. On the other hand, a major offense can go unnoticed and unpunished because no one complained about it or because those complaining do not have muscle.

The point I like to stress to employers is that they should hold their employees accountable to the company’s standards and practices not the level of support or condemnation their tweets receive. Not all complaints are fair and not all cheers are warranted. The company should lead based on its policy and it should act according to its code of conduct and ethics not the public’s reaction or outcry. On the other hand, to employees I stress that they should get their employer’s commitment in writing that in the case of controversy or complaint, their right to fair investigation is preserved.

Without an upfront commitment from the employer to stand by and protect employees from astroturfing and negative publicity, my advice to employees is not to use social media on behalf of their employer, period.

This Q&A is the first in a two-part interview with Nasr. You can follow her on Twitter and read more about her on her personal website.

While young Muslims deliver flowers, the US media fails twice

While the US media was having a field day with a non-story about a fringe pastor who wanted to burn the Quran, and while Islamophobia and anti-Muslim incidents were skyrocketing including urinating in a mosque and attacking a Muslim cab driver, young Muslims in a small city in the Middle East delivered flowers to a church. This was a “gesture of peace and coexistence,” the group of young Jordanian Muslims who delivered the flowers said.

Photo credit: Thameen Kheetan - The Jordan Times

“Shall we burn a copy of the Bible as a response to that? No, this is not what should be done,” Zeid Oweidi who was among a group of ten Jordanians told reporters at the Greek Orthodox Church in Amman last week. His comments were made against the backdrop of threats by Terry Jones, the pastor of a Florida church who planned to burn copies of the Quran on the 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

While extremists in places like Afghanistan demonstrated violently over the planned burning of the Quran, young Jordanians last week simply walked to a nearby church following the evening prayers and delivered flowers.

Following this gesture, I received an Email from someone belonging to the Christian community in Jordan urging fellow Christians to reciprocate by delivering flowers to Muslims after Friday prayers. I guess in this case instead of violence begetting violence, goodwill begets yet even more goodwill.

Sadly, for the US media this was a non-story. Who cared about a small, stable country like Jordan? Who cared about a handful of young Muslims delivering flowers when there were others demonstrating violently? Which one would get readers’ attention, violence or flowers? Sadly, the US media chose violence. Who can compete with death and blood? The sexier always wins.

Covering this story and bringing it to the world’s attention is crucial these days. While the average American news consumer is currently being inundated with images of extremist Muslims, a small story like this one should have deserved at least a fraction of the coverage that the Florida priest fiasco received. I understand that this is not a national story and it didn’t happen on US soil but in this interconnected media sphere the location of the story doesn’t make a difference anymore. We have already experienced that. An angry mob in Beirut attacked a Western embassy in reaction to cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper, while demonstrators in Pakistan marched the streets in reaction to an off-beat announcement by a priest in small American city. Nowadays, every story is a global story.

The disappointing fact is that the US media failed twice in this case: first in blowing the story of the Florida priest out of proportion by giving this isolated, planned act (which never happened) more than its share of coverage, and bringing it to the attention of the global audience. The second was in ignoring acts of Muslim goodwill that would have clearly showed that while some Muslims might burn flags and effigies, there are others, like this group of young Jordanians, who would simply deliver flowers.

Quran Burning and the US media: It’s a question of ethics

The first amendment is a genius piece of work. It gives American journalists the freedom to express and air information, it gives ordinary citizens the power to vocally criticize authority, and it also gives the priest of a small church in Florida the right to publically burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of September 11.

Terry Jones
Pastor Terry Jones. Photo credit: AP

Although burning a holy book doesn’t legally violate the US Constitution it is a clear provocation and should be, at least in my book, defined as hate speech. This priest in Florida knows he could do this but the question really is: should he? It is the same question that I ask the American media that has managed to blow this small story out of all proportion. This story could have been briefly covered as an isolated incident happening in a small Florida town. Instead, the media grabbed it and ran. They extensively covered it, analyzed it, and brought talking heads to debate it. Yes, they have the right to publish and air whatever they wish – and expand or diminish any event but, again, should they?

A story that could have been easily forgotten has now become an event that is being watched globally. It will go down as another example of “Muslim-hating Americans.” It will be exploited by extremists in their attempts to recruit future followers. In their attempts to extensively cover Islamophobia, can journalists actually endanger American lives?

The Arabic media has slowly started to pick up the story in the same pace that they picked up the Danish cartoons story which eventually unleashed more than a few bombshells.  Here is a round up of the Arabic media coverage of the Quran burning  story.

Media practitioners should be careful when they decide whether to cover or bury a story, for today the consequences of this decision can be grave.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to the media today asking them not to cover the planned burning event on September 11 “as an act of patriotism.” I don’t see shying away from giving big attention to a small story as an act of patriotism per se, but mostly as a question of ethics. But ethics, as we well know, can be elusive.

Jordan’s torturous tales in The Washington Post

Jordan's table of torture courtesy WaPO Accompanying Jeff to the department of motor vehicles this morning, I brought along The Washington Post to read while he took care of business. On the front page I found a lengthy story about Jordan. No, this was not a story about the two Jordanian entries for the Sundance Film Festival — a first in the history of the Kingdom. Rather, it was a report of something else: torture.

What was new this time was a photo illustrated table listing the inmates allegedly held and tortured in Jordan alongside the methods of torture used upon them. According to the article, torture in Jordan comes in two flavors: Falaqa and Farruj

Former prisoners have reported that their captors were expert in two practices in particular: falaqa, or beating suspects on the soles of their feet with a truncheon and then, often, forcing them to walk barefoot and bloodied across a salt-covered floor; and farruj, or the “grilled chicken,” in which prisoners are handcuffed behind their legs, hung upside down by a rod placed behind their knees, and beaten.

Of course the report disturbed me for obvious reasons. But I’m also upset at seeing my country’s name linked yet again to this inhumane practice. Living in the DC metro area, where everyone is politically charged, I get a comment or two about Jordan being linked to torture when I reveal my nationality. If the information were true, then really Jordan should put an end to it. It is inhumane and uncivilized. Just end it!

I also got annoyed because the Post seems hung up on the issue when discussing Jordan. How many times do you have to report on this, really! Why not replace the front page story with something positive for a change. Here is a headline for you: Two Jordanian entries at Sundance Film Festival boost Kingdom’s cinematic ambitions.

Okay, this post is giving me a headache so I’m going to stop whistling in the dark here and find something better to do. I of all people should know that journalists revel in bad news and rarely file reports that leave you loving life and wanting more. Uff!

Update: Ammon News is reporting (Arabic) that Jordan has introduced a new law into the Penal Code that penalizes anyone that tortures any citizen to get information. The penalty is imprisonment for a period of between six months to three years. Here is the news in Arabic:

بشكل هادىء ودون ضجيج ادخلت الحكومة الراحلة تعديلا مهما وكبيرا على
قانون العقوبات الاردني يمثل انتصارا كبيرا لكل المدافعين عن حقوق الانسان والحريات العامة .. ويتمثل هذا التطور القانوني في تعديل المادة 208 من قانون العقوبات بما يكفل انزال عقوبات مشددة بحق اي موظف عام يمارس التعذيب ضد اي مواطن بهدف الحصول على اعترافات منه وذلك انه كان يكتفى بتجاهل هذه الاعترافات اذا تبين انها اخذت تحت التعذيب ..

وبحسب النص المنشور في الجريدة الرسمية بعددها 6734 جاء فيها انه وبناء على قرار مجلس الوزراء بتاريخ 9-10 -2007 فقد تقرر ادخال تعديلات على قانون العقوبات ليصدر بصفة قانون مؤقت يحمل الرقم 49 لسنة 2007 ليقرأ مع القانون 16 لسنة 1960 .

وجاء في نص القانون الجديد من سام شخصا اي نوع من انواع التعذيب التي لا يجيزها القانون بقصد الحصول على اقرار بجريمة او على معلومات بشأنها عوقب بالحبس من ستة اشهر الى ثلاث سنوات

That’s really good news. Hopefully this inhumane practice will come to an end soon, not only in my home country, but all over.