Twitter was wrong to suspend Guy Adams' account

Will you be next?

If you missed the controversy, read colleague Ed Oswald's "NBC pressures Twitter to shutter account of journalist critical of Olympics coverage", then come back for my reasons why Twitter cocked up. Royally. His headline says it all, if you'd like to keep reading here. For a service often praised for supporting free speech, Twitter suppresses Guy Adams', presumably to protect a media giant and business partner. The suspension should matter to anyone using cloud services or supporting online free speech.

Here's what we know: Adams was highly critical of NBC's Olympics TV coverage. Among the tweets he posted the email address of the president of NBC Olympics. The network complained, citing Twitter's privacy policy. The service suspended the account. As I write, the account remains suspended.


Adams explains what happened in a The Independent story posted earlier today. He got just about as much response why from Twitter as we did. Ed and I both sought comment and got zilch. He emailed, and I called the corporate office. Twitter really doesn't want reporters talking to the media folks. Phone options are enter extension, customer service or communications. I chose comm and was instructed to email the press office. Hitting "0" did nothing, either.

NBC does better, acknowledging in a statement obtained by BetaNews: "We filed a complaint with Twitter because a user tweeted the personal information of one of our executives". The offending Adams' tweet: "The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven't started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: [email protected]".

Public or Private?

The question then: Did Adams' violate Twitter terms of service? Since the service refused to directly speak for itself, let's turn to what's already online, starting with this:

Posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter Rules.

Some examples of private and confidential information are:

  • credit card information
  • social security or other national identity numbers
  • addresses or locations that are considered and treated as private
  • non-public, personal phone numbers
  • non-public, personal email addresses

Jumping to a linked page, Twitter states: "If the account is violating our policy, then you can file a report and we will investigate the account. If the account is in violation, we will suspend the account". Going back to the first page again: "If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy".

S-o-o-o-o, if Zenkel's email was posted somewhere else on the Internet, then by Twitter's own policy, Adams violated nothing.

Finding out isn't easy, now that news of Adams' suspension is everywhere. I spent more than an hour this evening trying to find Zenkel's corporate email address, but because it's now everywhere in news stories, the search literally is for a needle in a hay field. I finally came up with an obscure page that I had seen earlier in an LA Times story. That's from organic search, and only after thousands of entries. Over at SearchEngineLand, Danny Sullivan found a few more -- and the same polluted search results.

The irony: The account suspension did much more to publicize Zenkel's email address than Adams' solitary tweet, exponentially.

By a strict interpretation of Twitter's "If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy", what did Adams violate here?

Broken Trust

The real question: Why did Twitter act so quickly to squash Adams' NBC London 2012 coverage criticisms -- and granted there were many? Consider this: Just last week, NBC and Twitter announced a partnership for the games. Zenkel says in a statement:

With the eyes of the world focused on London, there is no doubt that the conversation on Twitter will rage around the competition, the athletes and the incredible stories from the Games. This partnership with Twitter will enable NBC Olympics to make an enormous contribution to this conversation, bringing the swarm of attention surrounding the London Games our expertise, depth of content from our years of preparation, and the unique access to the Games only NBC Olympics has in London.

There's an official NBC-supported Olympics Twitter page, with more than 1.3 million followers -- and 938 tweets as I write.

So let me get this straight. Twitter supports free speech in far-fling countries like Egypt or Iran but not from UK journalists who criticize the cloud service's business partners? Is Twitter really protecting privacy or its NBC partnership? You can guess my answer. Twitter executed piss-poor judgment here, and despite the media storm -- around this, ah, event -- continues to do so.

This morning, in response to a writer presenting a third-party source for a story, I wrote in group chat:

In human relationships there is a misconception that love conquers all, that it's more important than anything. Actually, trust matters much more. Trust is the foundation of all relationships and framework for all cultural moral and ethical systems. In news, trust is a paramount. People need to trust that we report as accurately as possible. Even when I write snarky stories, there's still a relationship of trust.

Trust is vitally important with cloud services like Twitter. You trust them with your information and, here, to be soapbox and hub for online relationships.

As a journalist seeing one of my peer's free speech being suppressed, I lost trust in Twitter. Adams' account suspension was too quick and convenient. Twitter was wrong to suspend Adams' account.

Photo Credit:  AR Images/Shutterstock

32 Responses to Twitter was wrong to suspend Guy Adams' account

  1. benjitek says:

    Nothing newsworthy today?

  2. Kevin Gault says:

    What I think is more scary about it is the fact that NBC asked/forced Twitter to shut him off. No corporation should have that kind of power over free speech.

    • rpsgc says:

      Advertising $$$ speak louder.

      • Sparxx2k7 says:

        ...and violating Amendments to the Constitution speak even louder

      • TroyGates says:

         @betanews-25e016f0840e4b586dcbc6cbba55961b:disqusThe first amendment is not enforced on private corporation services. You only have first amendment rights when it comes to the government trying to deny it.

    • Blad3force says:

      A great nation is one that can change easily not be bound by a  constitution written by individuals 250 years ago. Come out of the stone age America!

      • Andrew Johnson says:

        Right, we should throw out those outdated concepts like freedom of speech, religion, and assembly.  No, wait- that would be STUPID.

    • TroyGates says:

      Using a company's service doesn't enable free speech. Free speech is using your voice and nothing else. If you don't like Twitter's policies and control, don't use it.

  3. Hollywood__ says:

    Joe.... no Samsung or Android propaganda? Have you been banned from reporting on your latest obsession?

  4. rebradley says:

    I wonder if Twitter remembers  myspace?

    • psycros says:

      I suspect they will soon enough.  I'm proud to say that nobody I know personally uses Twitter.  I can't imagine a more useless service.

  5. Rankine Zero says:

    An actual news story. I am impressed :)

  6. jfplopes says:

    Completely agree with this article. 

  7. Blad3force says:

    Are you surprised? America is just a subtle communist state that leads its people to believe they have rights, but only the rights they want you to have. After trying SOPA etc I am not surprised by this at all, it will get worse in America

    • StockportJambo says:

      Communist, no. Fascist... most definitely.

    • TroyGates says:

       This has nothing to do with the government. Geez you conspiracy theorists.

      • StockportJambo says:

        Who said anything about the government? Or conspiracy theories for that matter? This is just an example of how large corporations actually run things globally & control people & information. Governments are merely a front for show. That's not a theory - it's simple fact.

      • TroyGates says:

        Communist and Fascist are types of governments not corporations. A corporation is free to build policies and enforce them how they see fit. The bill of rights are not directly relevant to your use of a company's product versus your governmental rights.

      • StockportJambo says:

        "Communist and Fascist are types of governments not corporations." Granted, if you want to split hairs. Fact is, neither government nor corporation would openly admit to being either, but there are similarities in traits & attitudes, which was the original point.

      • TroyGates says:

         Sorry, still doesn't apply. Just because you want to use my company's product still doesn't mean you have a "right" to.

  8. markbyrn says:

    Joe, let's say somebody steals your credit card number and posts it on Facebook, and than 2 days later they post the info on Twitter.  By your asinine interpretation of the rules, Twitter has to allow it because it was posted elsewhere.  Although the "journalist" in question works for an alternative rag with small time readership, he was clearing attempting to harass the exec by posting his non-public email address to get the public to spam his mailbox.  That makes him a douche, and you are a douche as well since you posted the tweet with the email address.  

    • "Mr Adams then published an article saying a Daily Telegraph journalist had forwarded him an email from NBC" i think this says enough, the email was not public but forwarded by someone who had no right to do so without any approval....!

  9. gregnx says:

    [email protected] isn't hard to just guess, but what if he swapped out the "@" with "at"? The definition of "public" would require a judge to get involved. I would agree that Twitter is inconsistent here, but they are a company that wants to make money, so their decisions are going to lean in that direction.

  10. Hurricane Andrew says:

    Twitter crossed the line in this case.  They really stretched to protect a business partner, and adulterated their terms of service to try to shoehorn a justification that just doesn't hold up.  Not only was the info already available online, but it was not his "non-public personal e-mail", it was his corporate e-mail.

    • markbyrn says:

      No, you're rationalizing - whether it's corporate or personal makes no difference - the douche 'journalist' was attempting to harass the exec by suggesting the public spam his email box and make it difficult or impossible to do his daily business with his email account.  You think that's going to encourage the exec want to change the policy that the douche 'journalist' is wanting him to make?   Quite the opposite happened and it will make it difficult for credible journalists to do their job.  

      • Hurricane Andrew says:

        A business e-mail address is neither private nor confidential.  Did you even bother to read Twitter's terms of service?  They are spelled out for a reason, so that there are black and white rules that guide a company's actions and responsibilities.  It's not rationalization, it's following the rules...rules that Twitter itself established. 

  11. SnoBrdr says:

    What about when Spike Lee posted the address of where he thought George Zimmerman lived.  What happened to him ? Nothing, zip, nada, zilch.  Depends on who you are and what you say.

  12. Andrew Johnson says:

    Both are right, and both are wrong, in my view.  Adams may have been within the technical boundaries of the Terms and Conditions, but he was clearly encouraging his followers to harrass Zenkel.  Twitter was probably right to suspend him, but for harrassment, not for posting non-public information.  After all, my phone number may not be private, but if you convince a thousand people to call me up and bug me all day long while I'm at work, I might just ask somebody to step in and do something about it.  Our rights only go as far as it doesn't impede another person's rights.

    • scmurley says:

      Maybe you should look up the definition of harassment. Expressing an opinion about the quality of NBC's Olympic coverage to the person in charge of said coverage hardly qualifies as "harassment."

      • Andrew Johnson says:

        Maybe if I convince a few thousand or more people to fill up your inbox with hate mail, you'd develop a different opinion.  There is a reason companies have a separate complaint department.

      • scmurley says:

        There's a delete button for a reason, too. And I'm guessing the head of the Olympic coverage probably doesn't handle his own e-mail to begin with.

        (adding this under my original comment because I can't reply to your comment directly for some reason.)

  13. swattz101 says:

    Hmm, instead of suspending his account, couldn't they just delete the offending tweet? Of course that wouldn't appease NBCUI. Even that smacks of sensorship, but would be better than the wholesale suspension.

    Is there more to the story that we don't know about, like the critic of Diver Tom Daley who's twitter account was suspended due to tweeting multiple death threats.

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