After outcry, Twitter ‘unsuspends’ journalist account

August 1, 2012 5:16 am


“We want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up” – McGillivray/AFP
WASHINGTON, Aug 1 – Twitter apologized on Tuesday for suspending the account of a British journalist in an incident which prompted accusations it favoured its commercial ties with Olympics broadcaster NBC over media freedoms.

Twitter’s response came after an outcry over the suspension of Guy Adams, Los Angeles correspondent for The Independent, who had tweeted his outrage over NBC’s delay in broadcasting the opening ceremony in order to catch the primetime audience.

Twitter’s general counsel Alex McGillivray said the suspension stemmed from the social media site’s “Trust and Safety policies,” which prompted the company to look into the publication of an NBC executive’s email account.

“We want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up,” McGillivray wrote on the Twitter blog.

He added that “the account has been unsuspended, and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.”

Twitter said it took the action after its monitors learned of the disclosure of the NBC executive’s email address, which some consider “private” information – which would be a violation of the site’s rules.

“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,” McGillivray said.

“We do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are. This behaviour 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.”

News that Adams’s account was restored came just ahead of Twitter’s comments.

“Oh. My Twitter account appears to have been un-suspended. Did I miss much while I was away?” he tweeted.

Twitter and NBC, a unit of Comcast Corp., have what the companies say is a strategic, non-financial partnership for online content during the Olympics.

But Twitter’s handling of the matter raised a howl of protests from analysts saying the company was failing to live up to its obligations to protect the free flow of information.

“This is the inevitable result of what happens when we safeguard our free-speech protections to private corporations,” said Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor who writes a media blog.

“In the new interdependent media environment, your right to speak and write freely extends only as far as someone else’s business interests,” Kennedy told AFP.

Jeff Jarvis, a City University of New York journalism professor, made the same point about how journalists and companies should operate in social media.

“Twitter is going to have to learn the lesson that newspapers had to learn when they started accepting advertising: that when trust is your asset, you must run your service and your business according to principles of trust,” Jarvis wrote on his “Buzz Machine” blog.

“Newspapers built church/state walls to demonstrate that they could not be bought by sponsors’ influence. Twitter needs that wall,” he said.

Digital media analyst Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group said: “Twitter is getting a deserved black eye for disabling Guy Adams’ account.”

“This sets a dangerous precedent,” she told AFP.

“Twitter has been lauded in the past for protecting its users, for example against government requests for information. Twitter could suffer possibly irreparable damage if it demonstrates the interests of a business partner take precedence over its policies and users.”

Adams earlier said Twitter had bowed to pressure from the broadcaster, claiming he had not contravened the site’s rules.

He maintained that he did not publish a private email address, “just a corporate one.”


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