Twitter says #sorry, but still

Your tweets, their mercy: #NBCfail and Twitter censors at the Olympics


These early days of social media are times of novelty and paranoia.  We delight in our new powers of connectivity and expression, we are enthralled with our new capacity to be heard and to influence, yet we worry about what all of it will cost us.  We worry about our addictions to our screens and we worry about our privacy. We worry about what all of it is doing to our brains and we worry about what it’s doing to our kids.

All of it came so quickly and so cheaply. Much of it came for free.  We like getting things for free, but common sense tells us that nothing this big and this powerful could ever truly be free.  What happens if, say, Facebook, goes public, falters, falls under pressure to post big profits, and starts squeezing each user’s personal data for maximum returns?  These hypothetical worries are getting less and less hypothetical. Cautionary voices tell us that when we don’t pay for the product, we are the product.  But what does that mean, exactly?

It means, at the very least, this:  your new powers can be revoked at any time for any reason.  Twitter proved this Monday, when they noticed that a guy (journalist Guy Adams) was tweeting things about a business partner (NBC) that were critical and annoying (critical of NBC’s refusal to broadcast Olympics events live in the U.S., and encouraging folks to annoy NBC’s president directly by emailing him at Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com).

So Twitter suspended Guy Adams’ account. The backlash was swift and the account has since been reinstated. An apology, of sorts, has been issued. But the chilling fact remains—Twitter,  which thousands of journalists use to spread their voices and which millions of users rely on for their news, censored a journalist because he offended their business partner.  It was Twitter who noticed the offending tweet, Twitter who encouraged NBC to file a complaint about it, and Twitter who expedited the complaint and shut down the account.  They say they are sorry that they did so.  It was, they say,  a violation of their internal policies.  But their policies, like their platform, like your account, belong to Twitter.  They can change or ignore their policies and they can remove your voice.

It’s not paranoia if it’s true. Twitter just made it true.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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Twitter says #sorry, but still

  1. You’re not actually surprised, are you Jesse, that private companies have private interests?

  2. My girlfriend argued with a girl in a forum circa 5 years ago about animal rights. This girl was so offended by my gf’s argument in favour of meat-eating that, 5 years later, she continuously harasses my gf and everyone whose contact info she can get a hold of; including family, friends and myself. Without going into details suffice it to say that our local police contacted her, and even her own local police payed her home a visit, so threatening was the constant harassment. No, we did not feed the troll; following the police’s advice we would never reply to her. She would still create and recreate Twitter accounts that would harass us with the most vile and absurd accusations of pedophilia, bestiality, etc. I had to hide my Twitter account and flag every account she would recreate. Mention searches for my Twitter name would bring up her comments, and it was terrible. Twitter, God bless ’em, would terminate her accounts as violating the user agreement. It was a lot of work.

    I’m not saying I know the answer or what’s right. But I’m tired of the trolls always winning because of their right to harass. If this guy is publicly displaying someone’s email account and inviting harassment to it, well… *%&# that guy! I’m glad that Twitter has standards, with a user agreement that we all clicked ‘agree’ on, and I encourage it to defend this agreement.

  3. And when Twitter takes it too far, I hope that a new platform will simply take its place.

  4. How does a journalist have time to be tweeting ‘critical and annoying’ messages? Don’t journalists have standards, too? I agree with Arjuna.

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