Just five years after its creation, Twitter has become a dominant force in the public sphere. Most famously, the organizing powers of the social network have enabled the toppling of long-entrenched dictators.
On a smaller scale, hardly a day goes by without a tweet breaking, or making, news. But it's the unique attributes of social media interaction that make networks like Twitter more than just the latest forum for news updates. In spite of the shared space of the Twittersphere, the private experience of tweeting has facilitated a lowering of social inhibition on the network.
Rep. Anthony Weiner may have tweeted a picture of himself in error, but his incident serves to only further illuminate the lessening of personal restraint on Twitter. And as the New York congressman has also painfully learned, any sense of privacy resulting from the individualized experience of using Twitter is a mirage.
Weiner isn't the first to lose his job over a tweet, and he won't be the last. But this is America, and at 46 years of age, Weiner still has a future as something. As the most famous Twitter casualty to date, his experience reinforces the lesson that all tweets might as well be seen by your boss. In his case, that's the American people, and public opinion. For reporters, tweets can never compromise journalistic objectivity, if that's what your assignment calls for. The stigma against advocacy in journalism coupled with the limitless opportunity to opine has made that profession particularly vulnerable on Twitter.
Below are 10 notable cases of careers ruined by a tweet, in which the senders took on hot topics like gay marriage, racism and Middle East affairs.
1. Anthony Weiner
Rep. Weiner has never been known for shyness. Whether he was delivering impassioned speeches on the House floor in support of his progressive views, or sending out pictures of himself not-entirely-clothed to female Twitter users, Weiner has always shown an ease exposing his true self (at least until the scandal broke). Over his five and a half terms as the Democratic representative for New York's Ninth Congressional District, Weiner consistently embraced an elbow-throwing strategy in the pursuit of his agenda. He also showed a steady disregard for decorum in a series of showdowns with television reporters. Such a bruising profile did not endear him to his congressional peers, perhaps his biggest obstacle in his bid to hold onto his seat in Congress.
That Weiner apparently never actually had physical contact with the young women who received his tweets barely mattered once the pictures started to go viral. Weiner's demise was dramatic, and his march to become the next mayor of New York City might have gone off without a hitch, had it not been for one errant tweet.
2. Allen West's Intern
For the Florida Republican congressman who has called gay marriage an "oxymoron," one re-tweet was too much. While Allen West and his staff were attending a conference in Fort Lauderdale on the weekend of June 10, 2011, an intern who was temporarily hosting the congressman's Twitter account re-tweeted an item originating from the handle of the music group, The Scissor Sisters.
The tweet was in keeping with the band's proudly gay message: "Dear Tracy Morgan's son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We'll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA"
West, a rising star in the GOP, returned from Florida to fire the intern for associating the congressman with the campy band. (A request made to West's office to name the intern went unanswered.)
3. Octavia Nasr
Twenty years into a career covering the Middle East, and Octavia Nasr still hadn't learned the extent to which the militant group Hezbollah was off-limits. Nasr, who began covering the Middle East for CNN during the first Gulf War, was among the first women to interview Lebanese cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Fadlallah in the 1990s.
While many including the Reagan White House thought that Fadlallah was a leader of Hezbollah, he was in fact more of a philosopher of sorts advocating for a more strident form of Shia Islam. He was nevertheless considered a terrorist by many in the West over his alleged involvement in attacks, but his moderate human rights stances, including support for women's rights, drew the support of Nasr.
On hearing about his death, she tweeted: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah... One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot."
Citing a loss of "credibility," CNN fired her on July 7, 2010. Among her tasks as CNN's senior editor of Middle East affairs was integrating the network's social media platforms throughout the news division.
4. Stuart MacLennan
Stuart MacLennan hadn't even earned a seat in the British House of Commons before the Labour Party sacked him. A series of risque tweets, covering topics like his appetite for "slave-grown" bananas, doomed his bid to represent the Northeastern Scottish constituency of Moray in the Palace of Westminster.
Prior to the 2010 elections, MacLennan was a researcher for the Scottish Parliament, and many of his most brazen tweets stemmed from before his candidacy.
Indeed, MacLennan's youth and inexperience might have had much to do with his Twitter faux pas. Just 24 years old during his run, MacLennan committed a cardinal sin of electoral politics -- by referring to senior citizens as "coffin dodgers," he was of course insulting potential voters.
5. Nir Rosen
To accomplished journalist Nir Rosen, the beatings endured by CBS correspondent Lara Logan during the 2011 Egyptian revolution were just a bout of reportorial grandstanding. And so Rosen took to Twitter to express his view:
"Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger."
Logan wasn't the only one targeted by Rosen. "It would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too," he tweeted, referring to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Shortly after the messages were sent in February 2011, NYU's Center on Law and Security allowed Rosen to resign from his fellowship. When he stepped down, Rosen still couldn't stop himself. "I apologize for being insensitive, it's always wrong, that's obvious, but I'm rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get," he tweeted.
6. Mike Bacsik
Mike Bacsik wasn't just racist on Twitter, he was also inaccurate.
"Congrats to all the dirty Mexicans in San Antonio," the radio host tweeted on April 25, 2010, after the Spurs defeated the Dallas Mavericks in a first-round playoff game, apparently leaving out the Texas team's other Latin Americans, including Argentine-born Manu Ginobili. After all, it was Ginobili against whom the foul was committed that most incensed the shock jock.
The tweet, sent by Bacsik while he was drunk at a bar, quickly inflamed the Twittersphere. He was fired days later. The incident added notoriety to the career of the man known for serving up Barry Bonds' record-breaking 756th career homerun.
7. Vanderlei Luxemburgo
While soccer has long had a particular hold on the Brazilian people, the South American nation has also taken to Twitter with a similarly reckless abandon. Portuguese phrases regularly pepper the site's trending list, but soccer coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo quickly learned the danger of using the social media site to air views about his players.
When Palmeiras forward Keirrison was absent from club practices, Luxemborgo tweeted on June 16, 2009, that he would no longer play the then 18-year-old. The club soon let go of the highly regarded coach.
Luxemburgo's response? A follow-up tweet urging his followers to head to his blog on which he said he planned to continue the anti-Keirrison campaign.
8. Jeff Cox
State-sponsored violence is not accepted as a mainstream political tactic in America, as Jeff Cox learned in February, 2011. As a deputy attorney general for Indiana, Cox urged Wisconsin security forces via tweet to "use live ammunition" as protests raged over Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget plan.
As a Republican staffer in the state's attorney general's office, Cox had shared similarly bellicose views over his eight-year tenure on the internet, especially through his blog. Among the causes he embraced was the beating of a black teenager by Indianapolis police.
The attorney general's office only learned about his online comments after reporters from Mother Jones succeeded in uncovering Cox's Twitter identity, as his account had only listed "lawyer" as the profession of the owner.
Confronted over the comments, Cox said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force."
9. Damian Goddard
Advocacy on Twitter often only comes in the form of digital solidarity, and is not always accompanied by boots-on-the-ground activism. Yet that's exactly the kind of activity that got sports anchor Damian Goddard into trouble with Canadian broadcaster Rogers Sportsnet.
Goddard took it upon himself via tweet to "completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and true meaning of marriage," in May 2011.
Reynolds, a sports agent, had spoken out against NHL star Sean Avery's appearance in a commercial supporting gay marriage in New York State.
In severing ties, the company said, "views expressed by Mr. Goddard on Twitter are his own and do not reflect the views of Rogers [Communications] or Rogers Sportsnet."
10. Dane Deutsch
An embrace of Hitler is probably never the optimal electoral strategy in a Western democracy like America. But for Wisconsin Republican Dane Deutsch, a motivational speaker-turned-state-senate candidate in 2010, the onetime German dictator was worthy of being included in a tweet alongside the Great Emancipator.
"Hitler and Lincoln were both strong leaders. Lincoln's character made him the greater leader whose legacy and leadership still lives on!"
In response to an uproar over the tweet, Deutsch said that of course he was not praising Hitler, and that the comments were taken out of context. But tweets and their 140 characters don't leave much room for that level of complexity, and he lost the race.