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Keyboard Cowards: Is social media fueling venomous posts?


amny Credit: amNY

Nir Rosen let his impulses get the best of him Tuesday when he tweeted what many called hateful remarks about the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted in Egypt. He later resigned from his post as an NYU fellow because of the tweets.

But Rosen, who minimized the attack on Lara Logan and said it would have been “funny if it happened to anderson [Cooper],” is hardly the first person to face real-life consequences for online behavior.

And some say the very nature of online commentary can lend itself to such outbursts. Rosen’s fate is a textbook case of both the power — and great danger for inadvertent harm — that comes with the ease of social networking.

“This happens all the time,” said Sree Sreenivasan, professor of digital media at Columbia University. “People think social media is something you just do with your friends ... but they don’t understand that’s just not how it works.”

Rosen, who apologized profusely for the remarks, agreed.

“I think my lapse proves clearly that Twitter’s culture of immediacy can get you into trouble,” he told amNewYork Wednesday.

“Once you hit enter on the keyboard you can’t take it back … and it will take a life of its own,” he said. “[I]t also prevents careful thinking, cautious choice of words and encourages rashness.”

Logan could not be reached for comment and CBS declined comment.
Kelly McBride, Ethics Group Leader at media think-tank Poynter Institute, said that thoughtless or offensive commentary can be more of an issue with the person than the platform.

“Some people just don’t have the self-awareness to recognize how out of the realm of acceptability their thoughts really are, so they put them all over the Web,” she said.

But hateful comments, especially on controversial news stories, may be on the way out.

News organizations such as the Las Vegas Sun, and are at the forefront of restructuring comment systems to end commentary that the Sun politely calls “less than civilized.”

“One of the downsides of the Internet is that its anonymous nature lends itself to naked hostility,” writes Rob Curley, senior digital editor of the Sun, in a post last year explaining that comments now must be verified. “There is a high road here, we hope you’ll take it with us.”

Still, some believe we should be able to say what we want online, when we want to.

“Someone will always be offended by something,” said Lisa Pilgrim, 36, of Canarsie. “There is no pleasing everyone.”

(with Theresa Juva)


Excepts from amNewYork's interview with Rosen:

amNewYork: What has been the reaction among your colleagues and editors?

Nir Rosen: “My colleagues and editors have both condemned what I said and rightly acknowledged that it was reprehensible, while at the same time telling me that they know me and they know I didn’t mean it. … They have seen my work over the last eight years, and judging my work it should be clear that my life is committed to fighting for justice and against injustice.”

amNY: You’ve said the whole thing started out as kind of a joke among friends. What are their thoughts?

NR: “Sometimes gallows humor, which as a journalist or NGO worker you must have, is better not expressed because it can be so hurtful.”

amNY: How do you think your role as a journalist influences your Twitter use?

NR: “While it’s hard for me to philosophize about the role of Twitter at the moment, yes, as a journalist it’s both good and bad. … [I]f you're someone in the public eye, you have an added responsibility to show good judgment, more so if you are a leftist journalist already under additional scrutiny.

“None of this is as important as the fact that I hurt many people, and I am ashamed of myself and I apologize to Ms. Logan and anybody else I offended.”

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