Yesterday Twitter suspended UK journalist Guy Adam’s account for tweeting negatively about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, including tweeting an email address of the NBC executive in charge. Today we’ve learned that it was not NBC that initiated a complaint, but Twitter, which took the surprising step of proactively informing NBC.
[ update July 31 10:52 PST: Twitter has reinstated Guy Adams account ]
The assumption yesterday, unwritten but certainly thought, was that NBC had complained to Twitter. And that was bad enough, raising questions about freedom of speech and appropriate uses for Twitter, which has become a significant global communications utility, with 500 million registered users.
But today the Daily Telegraph revealed that actually, Twitter contacted NBC about the tweets, not vice versa. At least, according to a letter from NBC vice-president of communications Christopher McCloskey.
And that puts an entirely different complexion on things.
Up until now, Twitter has felt like something of a neutral party: If corporations or individuals complained about a tweet or an account, the company would investigate. And, if the terms of service had been violated or other violations found, Twitter would take action.
But it’s an entirely different matter to proactively be reviewing tweets and sending companies notifications about potential problems. Those are the actions of a publisher, not a communications utility. We’d expect to see that kind of move from a traditional movie or music industry organization, not our modern darling of geeky social news.
Bad form, Twitter. Seriously bad form.
It’s even worse when you consider that NBC and Twitter had a partnership to tell the story of London 2012 via tweets. That makes Twitter look like it has skin in this particular game … like the company was not a neutral party. Already some publications are stating quite openly that Twitter censored Adams because of the NBC partnership.
While that’s going too far based on the facts on-hand, one thing is for sure: This has really, really, really bad optics.
Suspending the journalist’s account was obviously — obviously! — a horrendously stupid idea. Anyone with even the smallest amount of media sense had to know that this would blow up. That Adams’ paper would publish about it. That the technology press would pick it up. That it would become a big story.
The smart way to deal with it was to not deal with it. The journalist in question, Guy Adams, would have continued to tweet, and most people would have continued to not notice.
But now it’s a big story, and Twitter has huge egg on its face.
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