Tuned In

When Twitter Becomes the Tweet Police

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It was — to paraphrase Twitter’s own terminology for when it crashes — a whale of a fail. The social-media service, and NBC, apologized for the suspension of a British reporter, critical of NBC’s Olympics coverage, who tweeted the e-mail of an NBC executive to his followers.

Twitter reinstated the reporter, Guy Adams of the Independent, but how the suspension happened is as important and disturbing as the fact that it happened. Twitter has a business partnership with NBC on the Olympics, and Twitter staff alerted NBC to the tweet — believing it violated a Twitter rule against tweeting private e-mail addresses — and encouraged the network to file a complaint.

It’s a little mind-boggling that Twitter wouldn’t anticipate how fast controversies over speech and silencing can spread on, well, Twitter. There was a burst of support for Adams — and whatever you think of the whole “Here’s this guy’s e-mail address. Tell him off, folks!” strategy, the appearance that NBC and Twitter teamed up to shut up a critic didn’t look good for a pair of media companies.

One question is whether Adams really violated Twitter’s stated rule in the first place. The “private” e-mail address he tweeted was a corporate one, in the same firstname-lastname-at-corporate-domain-dot-com format that other addresses at NBC (or for that matter, TIME) follow.

In an apology post, Twitter said it stood by the “private” judgment, since it can’t know or investigate whether someone uses an address for personal or public business. Though that raises the question of whether Twitter therefore considers every e-mail address private. Also, other users (like Spike Lee, who apologized for retweeting the wrong person’s address in protest over the Trayvon Martin shooting) have not been suspended over tweets of others’ personal information. But Twitter did recognize that tipping off a business partner to file a complaint was a conflict: “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.”

The incident itself is a small one in the grand history of public speech. And before anyone brings it up, this isn’t a matter of violating rights — Twitter is a private company that has every right to set rules for behavior and suspend users who violate them. (Whether Adams actually did in this case is another matter.)

But there’s what’s legal and there’s what’s responsible. And while this was one small incident, it points out the tremendous power that Twitter potentially has over users in social media. There are other outlets like Facebook and Google Plus, but only one Twitter. If AT&T were to cancel your cell-phone contract, you could switch to Verizon and still be able to make calls just the same. But if you’re suspended from Twitter, you’re just gone. There’s no alternate Twitter you can go on to reach the same people.

Here the issue was just griping over the Olympics, but Twitter has been used for much more serious and controversial purposes, including protests in the Arab Spring. If there’s even the suggestion that Twitter might choose to enforce its standards more assiduously for people who criticize its business partners, what happens when the growing company develops business interests in, say, a country whose government is under protest?

Twitter did the right thing to reverse itself and apologize, and it’s also the right thing to keep an eye on it to make sure it keeps doing the right thing. As go the Olympics, after all, so goes the world.

15 comments
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Bobby Wong
Bobby Wong

just as Rose responded I'm alarmed that any one can make $5868 in one month on the internet. did you look at this website  NuttyR|ch . cöm

koenigsking
koenigsking

The bigger question for those still left with a brain is: How did all you morons decide that twitter was somehow important to life? It's not

twocee
twocee

I have been asking this for a year now. 

I accept the fact that I am past the age where the latest technological wunder (misspelled deliberately) is going to really intrigue me.  And I realize that Twitter is just the latest in a long line of such things that, at one point in my life, I would've jumped on 3 days after it was released.

But Twitter does seem especially stupid.  Let's see.  I can sign up for an account and do 4 things:

1. Pretend that complete strangers actually care about the 140 character ramblings that go on in my head (or even better, where I had dinner last night) because I'm a narcissist that way.

2. Pretend to care what inanities are being dished out by the brain-dead celebrities and politicians who seem to think that I SHOULD care where they had dinner last night.

3. "Follow" the reporters for the various news, sports, and entertainment outlets so I can find out that 2 minutes ago someone died.  But, wait, that is actually unsubstantiated and really that person DIDN'T die but was instead chosen to host the Emmys/traded to a different team/or simply ate something that didn't agree with him at dinner.  Great, I can be the first to find out the latest breaking WRONG news.  Woohoo!  Ooo, and then I can re-tweet it because if enough people tweet something, it MUST be true!

4. Pretend that because someone I don't know/have never met/is a random celebrity somehow is my friend because I "followed" them and they responded/re-tweeted something I said to them ##WOWIE.

All the while butchering the English language so badly that an entire generation of people are entering the workforce thinking that LOL is an actual word.

bellaluna30
bellaluna30

I don't tweet, nor am I a twitiot, so I'll go ahead and say it:  NBC's coverage of the Olympics is underwhelming at best.  And that's being kind.

koenigsking
koenigsking

Twitiot! That's so appropriate that it is deeper than you can imagine.

Thanks

hardworker777
hardworker777

Ok, seriously. This is America we're talking about right? Is anyone surprised. Freedom is a delusion. 

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Always a problem with monopolies.

But then it is always every Corporations greatest goal to be an effectual monopoly and then to get around all those pesky anti trust laws.

Unfortunately, the reality is our government is completely ineffectual in this regard.

Jacques Cousteau
Jacques Cousteau

Our government chooses to be ineffectual.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

The corporations have spent many decades and millions and millions of dollars  lobbying, contributing, corrupting and subverting our government on their behalf.

Our government no longer works for us, it works for them.

max4374
max4374

I am sorry but I do not agree with your assertion of  " the tremendous power Twitter potentially has over users in social media".  You mentioned that if one doesn't like facebook can switch to something else, but not twitter.  Really?  It would take at most two weeks of programming for a competent team to come up with an alternative to tweeter.  Yes, marketing their product is another subject, but can you imagine if an alternative surfaces AND twitter makes a big mistake at the same time? Remember MySpace?  Neither do I.

Jacques Cousteau
Jacques Cousteau

Yep, it'd be awesome with....no one using it but your "competent team."

Because if it had any more potential than that, you wouldn't be sitting there writing letters. You'd be off doing it.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 You can CREATE something else like Twitter, but no one has aggregated anything like its audience--not even Google, which has tremendous resources. That someone COULD, theoretically, create something like Twitter--and someday may create something that will replace it entirely--doesn't change the fact that, today, if Twitter boots you off there is no equivalent alternative in structure and reach you can use instead. (Facebook, e.g., has the reach but a different structure of communication.)

lakat18
lakat18

Yes, but there is no reason that something else can't be created overnight and take the place of Twitter aside from the fact that people haven't felt they needed it. I remember when "everyone" was on AOL, Friendster... But a social media furor could move people to a new service faster than ever before. This censorship simply points out that Twitter is not a public utility provided by the government where free speech is protected by the Constitution. It is a service provided by a corporate entity. There should be a place where corporate control doesn't silence the free flow of information, but Twitter doesn't have to be that place. Ironically when I explain why Twitter and social media are relevant to people I often discuss the uprising in Iran when Twitter was overflowing with live information from the streets that was uncontrolled by government and people were finding ways around the government's attempts to silence Twitter. What Iran could not do in weeks with control of infrastructure, NBC could - with a well-positioned email.