Bloomberg News

Twitter Apologizes for ‘Mess Up’ in Suspending NBC Critic

July 31, 2012

Twitter Inc. apologized for a “mess up” surrounding the suspension of journalist Guy Adams, who used tweets to criticize Olympics coverage by the company’s business partner, NBC.

Twitter blocked Adams’s account after he posted the work e- mail address of NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, urging people to complain about the network delaying broadcasts of events. Twitter said today that some of its staff, who were working with NBC in covering the Olympics, identified the tweet as a violation of its terms of use and then encouraged the broadcaster to report the violation.

“We want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up,” San Francisco-based Twitter said on its blog. “We do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are. This behavior 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.”

Twitter restored Adams’s account today, following an outcry over his suspension. Critics said that by initially blocking Adams’s account, Twitter put the partnership with NBC ahead of its goal of disseminating information.

Losing Trust

“Twitter has a business relationship with NBC,” said Jeff Jarvis, a professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. “If Twitter acts in a way to favor that business relationship over the freedom of its platform for its users, then Twitter risks losing the trust of those users.”

Twitter’s Trust and Safety team, which polices its users, wasn’t aware that its own employees alerted NBC to the tweet before the broadcaster filed its complaint, Twitter said today.

“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,” Twitter said on its blog. “Our Trust and Safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other.”

After Adams was reinstated on Twitter today, NBC said it hadn’t realized that its complaint would lead to his suspension.

Complaint Rescinded

“Our interest was in protecting our executive, not suspending the user from Twitter,” NBC Sports, a division of Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US)’s NBCUniversal, said in a statement. “We didn’t initially understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it.”

Twitter users expressed dismay over Adams’s suspension using tweets accompanied by the hashtag #twitterfail. The social network’s users rely on hashtags, marked with a pound symbol, to make it easier to find posts on the same topic.

“I don’t think I have done anything wrong, and I don’t think any reasonable person would think I’ve done something wrong,” Adams, a writer for the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, said in an interview before his suspension was lifted. “If it’s standard practice to be immediately suspended after someone complains, it’s a dangerous policy. I’m surprised because I always thought Twitter was a company dedicated to the flow of information.”

Adams had criticized NBC in a number of tweets for its policy of tape-delaying major Olympic events and the opening ceremonies so that it could air the programming during prime time. Live events are available for cable subscribers online.

In posting Zenkel’s corporate e-mail address, Adams was sharing something he deemed to be public and widely available. Twitter said today those distinctions aren’t always clear.

“We’ve seen a lot of commentary about whether we should have considered a corporate e-mail address to be private information,” the company said in its blog response. “There are many individuals who may use their work e-mail address for a variety of personal reasons -- and they may not. Our Trust and Safety team does not have insight into the use of every user’s e-mail address.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Sherman in New York at asherman6@bloomberg.net; Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net; Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net


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