Yesterday, we wrote about Twitter suspending the account of Guy Adams, an LA-based journalist for the UK-based Independent paper. Just a little while ago, the account was turned back on, and Twitter has now published a statement about the incident.
Adams had been highly critical of NBC Universal’s coverage of the Olympics, and at one point tweeted out the corporate email address of NBC’s Olympics boss, Gary Zenkel. As many people have noted, that information was hardly private, as NBC Universal follows a standard format for emails ([email protected]). Furthermore, Zenkel’s email address was already easy to find online. Making this a lot more complicated is the fact that NBC Universal and Twitter have a business partnership over Olympics coverage.
After the initial story came out, in which it was confirmed that Twitter suspended the account over the publishing the email address, NBC Universal put out a statement, claiming that it had filed the complaint. Making things more complicated, however, is the news that Twitter apparently alerted NBC Universal to the tweets in the first place. Twitter’s statement puts a lot of focus on the fact that it is not their policy to proactively monitor tweets, and then admits they violated that policy in this case:
The Trust and Safety team does not actively monitor users’ content. In all cases, whether the user is the head of a major corporation, a celebrity, or a regular user, we require a report to be filed at our abusive users webform. Not only do we need a report, but we need a report from the person whose private information has been posted, or someone who is able to legally act on their behalf. We do not proactively report or remove private information on behalf of other users, no matter who they are.
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.
While it’s good to see Twitter taking responsibility here, a lot of damage has already been done in the aftermath of the incident. Before this statement, Twitter remained quiet for some time, refusing to respond to Guy Adams’ attempts to talk. This sparked criticism of both Twitter and NBC Universal. The criticism against NBC isn’t a huge surprise, but what grew more rapidly was the anger towards Twitter. Reports are highlighting the seeming hypocrisy of a company that has stood strong on free speech and access to communications grounds for years, including its famous “The Tweets Must Flow” post from a couple years ago.
That same article notes other prominent cases of Twitter users tweeting out much more “private” info, such as Spike Lee tweeting out someone’s home address, incorrectly believing it was the address of George Zimmerman (the guy who shot Trayvon Martin). Similarly, Justin Bieber tweeted out some teenager’s phone number to all of his followers. Others have pointed out how MIA tweeted out a journalist’s phone number. None of these involved accounts being shut down.
On top of all of this, the situation has made people much more aware that they’re at the whims of Twitter as a platform provider. And unlike systems where you have full control over your data and what you do with it, online services can simply cut you off.