Unacceptable tweets

I’m still trying to process CNN’s remarkable decision to fire one of its senior editors for what it considered an ‘unacceptable’ tweet (“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”)

The tweet was a message of sympathy for the passing of an Islamic cleric who took a stand against the misogyny for which much of Islamic society is  known.  But he also endorsed terrorism and suicide attacks against the US and Israel. Clearly the latter trumps the former in the minds of most Americans.

A senior British diplomat, Frances Guy, got into the trouble for the same reason, writing on her blog that Fadlallah was a ‘decent man’. She wrote; ‘When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person.’ For this Guy was forced to issue an apology and retraction.

Extraordinary. But at least that was a more measured response than CNN’s. American liberals are incandescent about the company’s ‘gutless decision’ to fire Nasr, complaining of a black vs white, good vs bad mentality that is taking over US politics, in which nuances simply aren’t accepted any more.

Is this a story about social media, or about American politics? Both, obviously. A news broadcaster would have been vulnerable to attack if it had sided with Nasr, and with the right in its present paranoid state it was never even going to try. But how remarkable that a 140 tweet can be headline news and get an otherwise valued member of staff fired – just like that.

Social media effectively removes the barriers between our brains and the outside world -if we use it habitually, our thoughts and imaginings are laid bare for everyone to see. We become public figures, vulnerable to public opinion just as politicians are, and increasingly, like them, liable to pay for indiscretions with our jobs.

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