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Twitter Is Fun, Until It Isn’t

Big media companies love when their employees hit Twitter. After all, the short-form social media platform gives consumers direct access to media personalities, and along with it, an intimate connection that large media organizations, and the public, revel in.

Until something goes wrong. Roland Martin, who is paid to spout opinions on CNN, posted a controversial one on Twitter and now he is on suspension.

Like a lot of us, Mr. Martin watched the Super Bowl last Sunday and like many of us, he frolicked on Twitter as one more way of “watching” the big game, including commercials.

Mr. Martin, a syndicated newspaper columnist and a political analyst for CNN, got in trouble for writing, “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.”

Many, including gay advocacy groups, felt that the post advocated violence against homosexuals. Mr. Martin, a longtime hater of soccer, saw the immediate blowback on Twitter and said he was just mocking that sport, and nothing more. CNN also saw the outcry and suspended Mr. Martin indefinitely, saying in a news release that his post was “regrettable and offensive.”

This is not the first time someone who makes a living on one platform has been clobbered for making remarks on another. Octavia Nasr, senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs at CNN, was fired in 2010 for praising on Twitter Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shiite cleric and inspirational figure for Hezbollah, after he died. That same year, an Arizona Daily Star reporter was fired for writing posts critical of colleagues and of the city of Tucson. The National Labor Relations Board said his dismissal was legal, in part because he had been warned by his employers not to post about work-related issues. Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the Daily Kos, was temporarily barred from MSNBC after getting in a Twitter dispute with Joe Scarborough on his show “Morning Joe.”

The list goes on, but you get the idea. The great thing about Twitter is it offers a friction-free route to an audience — if it can be thought, it can be posted. That’s also the bad thing about Twitter. For employees of almost any company, but especially media companies, it creates an ongoing tension: Yes, build your personal brand and, by proxy, bring social media luster to your employer, but do it in ways that are consumer-friendly and taste-appropriate. That kind of contemplativeness is not generally a Twitter impulse, as Mr. Martin found out.

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