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.