Writer Fired: CNN’s Social Media Policy

Nasr's Blog Post
Does your company have a formal social media policy? Could you be fired for what you post on your Facebook page or Twitter feed? If you work for CNN, the answer is yes. On Wednesday, CNN fired its senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, Octavia Nasr, for posting a tweet in favor of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.

The exact tweet was: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon.” Nasr took to a blog on CNN to explain the tweet.

She wrote the following:

“Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides 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 was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all.

Here’s what I should have conveyed more fully: I used the words ‘respect’ and ‘sad’ because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of ‘honor killing.’ He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.”

The reason behind the tweet apparently did not matter to CNN. Nasr broke CNN’s strict social media policy and the result is the termination of her employment. Among other things, CNN’s social media policy states: “CNN EMPLOYEES ARE TO AVOID TAKING PUBLIC POSITIONS ON THE ISSUES AND PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS ON WHICH WE REPORT.” The policy is clear.

What is not always clear in social media is the line between professional and personal tweets or postings. Should you friend your boss or coworkers on Facebook or follow your employees on Twitter? If you are a public figure for an organization, are you allowed to have a personality or are you limited to posting only facts and headlines? Where exactly is the line between what is appropriate to share and what is not – and does it move as our society becomes more and more comfortable with social media?

CNN’s policy strives to make the line crystal clear – social media is for professional use only.

If you are interested in learning more about the CNN social media policy or to see the policies of other large companies, check out this recent article in Fast Company. The magazine compiled corporate social media policies from several companies, including CNN, Intel and Best Buy.

3 Comments

Patti Breckenridge

One element that many commenting on CNN’s social media policy are forgetting is that unlike non-journalism organizations, it must encompass a journalist’s responsibilities to remain objective. Non-journalistic organizations are not empowered by the First Amendment as are news organizations. This is a critical difference. The social media policy of a news oganization must reflect that difference.