CNN Senior Editor fired over tweet; are we taking Twitter too seriously?

All it took was a few hastily typed words.

In what may not seem like a blip on the technology news radar screen, a high-ranking CNN news editor was fired on Wednesday over a simple tweet. Octavia Nasr, senior editor of Mideast affairs at CNN, was quietly let go after tweeting on the passing of a Hezbollah leader. The tweet simply said, “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” After her tweet caused a wide and mixed reaction across the Internet, CNN promised to look into the matter, and that it would “be dealt with accordingly.” Mediaite managed to get their hands on internal memos regarding the incident. In explaining the reasoning behind letting Nasr go, Senior Vice President of International Newsgathering Parisa Khosravi said that “we believe that credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.” Nasr had been a part of the CNN team for 20 years.

There are a whole slew of issues to deal with here, but this specific political maelstrom is one I’m going to steer clear of. The one aspect of this controversy that is as clear as a cloudless summer day is that Twitter came out on top. For the few holdouts still doubting Twitter’s dominant and influential position in the social media landscape, the event of the past few days should change your mind. When a social media outlet has the power to get a 20-year employee (a senior staffer, at that) fired over literally 140 characters of understandably well-meaning eulogy, that company has “made it.”

This is not simply an ode to the wonders of Twitter, as its somewhat dramatic rise to its current level of mass media saturation has been well documented and well known for quite some time now. I believe, however, that this incident is different. Neowin reported on Wednesday that in third party login statistics, Facebook blew away the competition. More people are using Facebook credentials to login to third party sites than any other site on the Internet, and it’s a testament to Facebook’s continued dominance in the social networking world. There was one area, however, that Facebook didn’t do as well in. In the news-related third party logins, Twitter was the dominant first place credential supplier. This is an important statistic. The masses have decided that when it comes to the distribution and reception of short spurts of raw textual information, i.e. news, Twitter was the service they joined their news accounts to. Facebook, Yahoo!, and Google, may have the edge when it comes to general information and media-rich social networking, but it comes to getting the latest information on a given topic, Twitter is the place people trust.

This is interesting, because Twitter started out as a casual way to post your simple status so that the world could see it. It was an open, global, bulletin board with the casual goings-on of its members available to public perusal. All that changed when Twitter became synonymous with grass-roots revolution during the Iranian Presidential Election and a vital communications medium during global crises like the earthquake in Haiti. It became the place where news reporters and bloggers went to first for breaking news, and where product releases and recalls were announced first. Simply put, Twitter grew up very quickly. The departure of Nasr from the staff ranks of CNN shows just how grown up the service has become. It exhibits the reality that your casual, if shortened, blurbs on Twitter can become the opinion people judge your career on. It shows that the world takes Twitter very, very, seriously. But is this the right attitude?

We’ve known for a while that employers lurk in potential employees’ Facebook pages for red flags, but your Facebook tells you a whole lot more about a person simply due to its media-rich nature. On your Facebook page, you can lay out your dreams and aspirations in a few comma-separated fields. You can chronicle your life in a series of dutifully tagged albums. All you can do with Twitter is type what’s on your mind. When I see a tweet from Octivia Nasr, I don’t see context; I just see an isolated thought.

On the other hand, Twitter doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When you tweet your goings-on, you are fully aware that there are people waiting on the other end to read what you have to say. That’s the entire point of the social platform. The conciseness forced upon us by Twitter makes us choose our words carefully, and write for effect. If that’s the case, maybe the carefully thought out blurbs of Twitter can tell us more about the minds of their sources than some pictures on a Facebook page ever will.

Either way you look at it, Twitter is a force to be reckoned with. Those 140 characters become more and more serious the longer people look to Twitter as a reliable source of news. It may be a matter of opinion whether or not we’re taking Twitter too seriously, but there’s no denying that it’s a phenomenon we can’t simply brush off as a casual fad anymore. CNN just made that very clear.  

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