Twitter’s been a hot topic the past couple of days, but not for any reasons that have put the micro-blogging platform in a favourable light. After suspending The Independent journalist Guy Adams for his part in what was very much a collective and Twitter-wide outpouring of criticism of NBC’s coverage of the London Olympic Games, Twitter has finally seen sense and restored Adams’ account.
They’ve also issued an apology. However, the reason why Adams was actually banned from the network, when other Twitter users have behaved in a similar (and often far worse) fashion and been ignored, is still far from clear. Moreover, Twitter’s relationship with its partners, and the ramifications therein for the end user, is also now being questioned.
Legend has it that Adams account was suspended on Sunday (July 30th) because he tweeted the email address of Gary Zinkel, the president of the NBC Olympics, which was seen as a breach of Twitter’s TOS which states that posting another user’s private information is a big no-no.
Problem was Zinkel’s NBC email address is not private, and can fairly easily be found on Google. Which is where Adams himself tracked it down. However, NBC complained to Twitter – after being alerted to the “violation” by Twitter themselves – who swiftly suspended Adams’ account.
Buck nicely passed. The issue, which has left Twitter’s record as a champion of the little guy in tatters, is that Twitter is very much in bed with NBC as it tries to position itself as the “official narrator” of the London Games.
Cue massive public backlash.
One of the reasons why Twitter gets into trouble when things like this happen is that the company has this really annoying policy of maintaining their usual stance of mystery and suspense when it comes to giving reasons why they have made a decision or taken an action. As I’m sure you’ll be aware if you’ve ever tried to get something done with Twitter’s support team, it’s a very frustrating process. You submit a support ticket, wait ages for a response and then get sent either an automated or generic reply. You push, and if you’re lucky you’ll be sent a list of vague, generic “reasons” by a real person. You push again and you’ll never get another response.
In short, it’s crap.
A similar thing happened to Adams. Nobody contacted him from Twitter to explain why his profile had been suspended. He had to write to them, including a reach-out to Twitter’s European PR head Rachel Bremer (you can read his email exchanges on Deadspin), but it wasn’t enough for Twitter to do anything about it.
Luckily for Adams, everybody else stood up and took notice. Ultimately Twitter, after much pressure, did a complete 180 and restored Adams profile.
“Your account was suspended because a complaint was filed stating that you had violated our terms of service,” Twitter wrote in an email to Adams. “We have just received an updated notice from the complainant retracting the original request. Therefore, your account has been unsuspended, and no further action is required from you at this time.”
Buck nicely passed back. It wasn’t us, it was those pesky NBC guys! Good news – they changed their mind!
Adams returned to Twitter-world at 1736 UTC yesterday.
Oh. My Twitter account appears to have been un-suspended. Did I miss much while I was away?
— Guy Adams (@guyadams) July 31, 2012
It’s worth reading Twitter’s account of this episode in full over on their official blog, but I’ve clipped the key part of their statement below.
We’ve seen a lot of commentary about whether we should have considered a corporate email address to be private information. There are many individuals who may use their work email address for a variety of personal reasons — and some may not. Our Trust and Safety team does not have insight into the use of every user’s email address, and we need a policy that we can implement across all of our users in every instance.
That said, we want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up. The team working closely with NBC around our Olympics partnership did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter Rules and encouraged them to file a support ticket with our Trust and Safety team to report the violation, as has now been reported publicly. Our Trust and Safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other.
As I stated earlier, we do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are. This behavior is not acceptable and undermines the trust our users have in us. We should not and cannot be in the business of proactively monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is — whether a business partner, celebrity or friend. As of earlier today, the account has been unsuspended, and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.
For his part, Adams has addressed the events of the past couple of days in The Independent.
Adams goes on to give examples of other high-profile Twitter users who have acted in outrageous, at times illegal ways on the service and nary received even a slap on the wrist, including Spike Lee, whose ill-advised “outing” of the Florida address of George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering 17-year old Trayvon Martin, turned out to be that of an elderly couple who were forced to flee their home. Lee’s account was not suspended. Heck, I think Twitter put him up for profile of the week.
There are many lessons to be learned for this incident. One, that Twitter is, as Dave Winer and others have repeatedly argued, blatantly trying to position itself as a media company and because of its various “strategic” partnerships, very much in danger of being pressured to take action on users that criticize, oppose, bad-mouth or in any way operate in the disinterests of those partners.
Or, indeed, Twitter itself. It is, of course, their business, and they can do what they want with it. But I think that the days of Twitter being seen as this fun, somewhat innocent, even hokey platform have long passed. It’s a machine, with a process, and a mission.
There’s still much to develop with this story, and Twitter will need to be very careful in how it manages similar incidents to this in the future. Everybody is going to be watching.