Twitter Finally Reinstates Journalist's Twitter Account, But Questions Raised Over Its Actions

from the failures dept

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 (firstname.lastname@nbcuni.com). 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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 1:49pm

    Oh, come on now Pirate Mike, like you're any different? Anytime I come on here and express an opinion you don't like, there you are blocking my posts and @h%$9aasdzz!@!;'a.>.?

     

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    Tunnen (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 1:50pm

    So NBC finally aired his complaint on TV, thus allowing it to be shown on the web again? =P

     

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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 1:53pm

    Twitter's statement does not pass the sniff test. From their statement here:
    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...
    And from the Wired.com article on this subject:
    Twitter’s policy is remarkably clear on this issue. It says in very clear language that “[i]f information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy.” This invalidates any argument concerning whether Adams’ account should have been taken down.

    What smells like bullshit, probably is.

     

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      Tunnen (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:59pm

      Re:

      I don't understand why anyone bothers with the smell test. I can tell you right now that all PR announcements are made from the most potent and concentrated bullcrap that they spent the entire week refining.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:09pm

    The team working closely with NBC around our Olympics partnership did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter Rules


    No, they didn't. They identified a Tweet that they wished was in violation of the rules, but really wasn't.

    The rules say you can't publish private information, including personal email addresses. It says nothing about public information, which this was.

    If Adams had really broken the rules, he would still be suspended. The fact that he isn't shows you're lying through your teeth.

     

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      Mike42 (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:45pm

      Re:

      I agree. Stating that "There are many individuals who may use their work email address for a variety of personal reasons" is the biggest bunch of bullshit I ever read. Doesn't even pass the laugh test.

      There are may businesses who find that individuals who use their work email address for personal reasons are wasting company resources. Those individuals often find their employement terminated.

       

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    Eric G (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:14pm

    Legal vs moral

    Dear Twitter, there's a gap between your legal and your moral obligations. In that gap your worth is determined. People, including activists and journalists, have been using your service as if they had an unalienable right to post important, controversial, content. You may not have a legal obligation to be neutral (as you've shown in this case you're easily perverted) but if you want to continue to be a valuable resource then you have to act as if your very existence requires you to be the open, transparent, neutral service that you have claimed to be.

    If you fail, we will move on. Nothing is forever and your replacement is probably already out there.

     

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    ebilrawkscientist (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:24pm

    Sow the forrests of dendritic trees!

    Maybe its time someone got clever and coded a whole brand new opensource short messaging protocol and made it stand alone interactive non corporate or central body goverened for people to do as they pleased notwithstanding jurisdictional rules and ebil greedy sue happy nutballs like so many self serving lawyerly type morons.

    > Communications wants to be FREE.

    > Sharing is caring.

    Then we can be ourselves with impunity and totally side step insidious Twitterati regimes. Fear us, we are legion!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:29pm

    Monitoring

    Now that they admit to monitoring content, won't they lose their safe harbors? Next time someone sues them as being responsible for the content, seems like this will come back to bite them.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 12:41am

      Re: Monitoring

      Now that they admit to monitoring content, won't they lose their safe harbors? Next time someone sues them as being responsible for the content, seems like this will come back to bite them.

      No. They don't admit to monitoring everything, and section 230 safe harbors, in particular, are clear that even if you monitor, you're protected (in fact, they're designed to *encourage* monitoring, without requiring it).

       

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      Ninja (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 3:26am

      Re: Monitoring

      It seems to me they aren't actively monitoring everything. This was one exception brought to you by the nazi psychopath Jesus hater Olympics. While I can understand what led to this blunder Twitter will have to work harder to regain the trust it lost.

       

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    Laurel L. Russwurm (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:30pm

    free speech

    Twitter *is* a business. Regardless of the bonus goodwill generated by its past Free Speech posturing, Twitter exists to make money, not guarantee Free Speech.

    The only way to ensure free speech online is to build distributed human networks; people need to stand up for free speech, because corporations won't. I blogged about this a while ago but rather than relying on Twitter, people could try Identi.ca and StatusNet

    Full disclosure: I use Identi.ca and my "dents" flow into Twitter as tweets, but I'm not employed by, or have any financial interest in the company. I occasionally bug the founder about stuff I think he ought to improve, but mostly I just use their free/libre service.

     

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    Brent (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    ...Others have pointed out how MIA tweeted out a journalist's phone number. None of these involved accounts being shut down.

    I don't understand the lack of understanding over the incidents mentioned in this paragraph. The policy IS very clear, it states that the user whose private information was tweeted publicly must report the violation themselves. So apparently the kid and reporter whose phone #s were tweeted publicly, George Zimmerman/the couple whose address was accidentally tweeted didn't report the incidents to Twitter. As stated in their policy, unless it was the people directly or a legal representative of any of those people, they would ignore all reports of the tweets. Doesn't that explain why none of the violating accounts were shut down?

    Obviously NBC is compensating Twitter in some way to have actual Twitter employees working on the NBC/Twitter Olympics 'hub', apparently including monitoring any tweets mentioning either NBC or the Olympics. This is a different practice than usual for them which is why they are violating their own policies. This doesn't excuse Twitter's actions in my opinion but it does explain them.

    That said, this raised some questions when i was writing this: What is twitter's policy when private information is tweeted for people who don't have a twitter account? Do they have to create an account just to file a complaint? If others report the incident, do they at least investigate whether the person(s) has a twitter account before dismissing it? If so, do they then make an effort to notify those people?

     

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    Anon, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 5:58pm

    What a pity

    Just like Facebook and Twitter seems to be of the opinion that they are here to stay, that they are a large part of the internet that is just going to grow and grow and grow and people will be unable to replace them with another service.

    They think they are unbreakable just like many of the really big internet businesses that have disappeared from our thoughts totally, like DIGG and yahoo and altavista and AOL.

    The worst thing a newish industry can do is give anyone a reason to move to another service that does something similar as there are plenty out there just ready to take over when the legacy businesses put a foot wrong.

     

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    Acksiom, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 7:50pm

    Gatekreeping:

    Actions by people and companies that create incrementally less open and transparent environments versus more restrictive and censoring ones than their previous behaviors did.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 7:59pm

    Twitter, we don't monitor tweets unless you pay us a truckload of money... then all bets are off.

    It is nice how Twitters own team seemed unable to understand the perfectly clear policies of the company, and was all proactive up in that.

    The teachable moment here... your not as important as NBC so shut up.

    Might be time for someone to build a better mousetrap, that actually means what they say and follows the posted rules.

     

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    B's Opinion Only (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 8:44pm

    It is my understanding that service providers such as Twitter are protected from a lot of bad things by the DMCA's "Safe Harbour" provisions, specifically because they are simply the conduit of the information and exercise no editorial control.

    If Twitter has started proactively censoring posts, wouldn't that mean that they are now legally and financially responsible for what their users publish?

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 9:52pm

    Twitter has problems now

    Twitter in this statement posted by their General Counsel Mr Alex Macgillivray no less has set themselves up for a whole world of hurt if from this moment on they actually do not enact this policy for everyone who sends a notice via their 'abusive users webform'.

    Also those individuals who were actually damaged in any way (emotionally, monetarily, physically, or psychologically) by the actions of such individuals like Spike Lee, Bieber, and the MIA could have a very good case against Twitter now since Twitter has now admitted they did not at the time enact their own policy. Especially when the release of information on those individuals was actually what is deemed legally as privately identifiable information and NOT the publicly accessible email of a corporate person in a publicly listed company!

    twitter should be not only ashamed at their inactions & actions but should be very worried. Their reputation and the Trust/Goodwill they have via users is the only thing of value, they seem to have lost a lot of that now.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:15am

    That same article notes other prominent cases of Twitter users tweeting out much more "private" info[...] None of these involved accounts being shut down.

    None of those offended the Olympic Overlords, Masters of Medals, Rulers of the Rings, Tyrants of Takedowns, Coverers of Unsponsored Logos, Owners of the Word "Olympic". All hail the overlords! Their word is law, and their vengeance is swift!

     

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      ebilrawkscientist (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 10:01am

      Re: o.O

      >> the Olympic Overlords, Masters of Medals, Rulers of the Rings, Tyrants of Takedowns, Coverers of Unsponsored Logos, Owners of the Word "Olympic". All hail the overlords! Their word is law, and their vengeance is swift!

      [enter trollpost]

      . . . DIAF, Yes?

      [/exit trollpost]

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 5:38am

    Just another large private corporation that does not care about you. I don't tweet. Who has time? People without Jobs, Family, Lives. Waste of time when you could actually do something constructive. The tweeters will be the ones in their 50's saying 'Gee I wish I had been able to take the time to love my family, pet my dog. Scratch my cat.' Nah who needs time we got lots of it.

     

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    datdemdar, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 12:00pm

    The 2012 Olympics are a joke anyways.

    The jerks in this story besides Twitter are NBC, Gary Zenkel, and the Olympics itself. Search out photos of the 1948 Olympics in London are see how it was staged with the most simple means. Now in 2012 with governments having all sorts of problems with funding anything needed and useful they still have the funds to put on a 17 day party for the rich. It was the same in 2010 in Vancouver. Most of the population didn't want it, requesting the money being spent could had gone towards better health care and education, but we all know how that went and the multi-hundreds of millions was wasted anyways on a gathering of the rich for an expense joke.

     

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