In the universe of social media and privacy, Twitter has always been considered one of the good guys.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter hasn’t continually ratcheted back user privacy to fit an ever-expanding business model. Unlike Google, Twitter doesn’t try to Hoover up every bit of your life – including the radio waves emanating from your WiFi router – and use it to deliver ads.
Twitter is probably the most transparent digital company on the planet while at the same time being one of the biggest targets of repressive regimes. At the moment it is battling US government attorneys, trying to overturn court orders forcing it to hand user data over to law enforcement. Tweets belong to the people who tweeted them, not Twitter, says Twitter.
But the honeymoon is apparently over. Why? Because Twitter just booted a journalist for being critical of one of its business partners.
That’s not what Twitter is claiming, of course. UK journalist Guy Adams, who’s covering the Olympics for The Independent from his home in Los Angeles, found his Twitter account sent to the Gulag for violating the network’s rules about privacy.
Adams has been scathing in his criticism of NBC’s coverage of the Olympics – primarily its decision to delay its broadcast of events happening in London so it could reach a bigger prime time audience here in the US. Adams, like everyone else in LA, was seeing events six hours after they were over.
He wasn’t exactly happy about that. So he sent the following tweet:
The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: Gary.firstname.lastname@example.org
According to Twitter, revealing Zenkel’s corporate email address violated Twitter Rules, which state that “posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation” and lists “non-public, personal email addresses” as one of the examples.
Like the US and UK, Twitter and NBC have a special relationship for these Olympics; Twitter is serving as the “official narrator” for the event online, per the Wall Street Journal. In fact, it was Twitter that notified NBC of Adams’ tweet, not the other way around.
Did Adams violate Zenkel’s privacy by publishing that corporate email address? I asked a passel of my favorite privacy wonks (via Twitter, naturally). The answers were mixed.
Many said, No way, Jose. UX designer and strategist Garrett Cobarr tweeted “No, corporate emails are anonymous not private. Who do consumers write to when they have a broken toaster?”
Kashmir Hill, author of Forbes’ The Not So Private Parts blog, was in between. The email address was probably not private, she said, but Adams’ inciting people to send hate mail was a bigger privacy violation.
In this case the point may be moot. On that same privacy rules page Twitter also states:
Keep in mind that although you may consider certain information to be private, not all postings of such information may be a violation of this policy. 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.
It didn’t take Netizens long to find an example of Zenker’s email address being published in similar circumstances a year ago, when a group of Christians were incensed after NBC expunged the words “under God” from a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
To recap today’s Twitlympics highlights:
* Zenker’s email address isn’t “personal” and had already been published. So no actual violation of Twitter’s policies occurred.
For the record, I think Adams was wrong in calling out Zenker by name in his tweet. If he wanted people to complain, he should have directed people toward one of NBC’s public-facing email accounts, like email@example.com.
But Twitter and NBC were unbelievably dense in how they handled this. The proper way was to politely ask Adams to kindly delete the tweet with Zenkel’s email address in it. (Adams has said he probably would have complied.) Now they’ve got a big fat public relations mess on their hands.
The only way out of this mishegas, I think, is for a) Twitter to re-instate Adams’ account, acknowledging the mistake; b) Adams to apologize for buttering the InterWebs with Zenkel’s email; and c) Zenkel to change his email address immediately.
Also: It would sure be nice if NBC broadcast the high-profile events live on this side of the pond, instead of letting us all find out who won via the Internet.
Because a person can only take so much evil in this world.
UPDATE: Two hours after this originally posted, Guy Adams' Twitter account appears to have been reinstated. More details coming.... maybe.
UPDATE PART DEUX: The Independent has the full email Adams received from Twitter. It reads:
Per our previous correspondence, your account was suspended because a complaint was filed stating that you had violated our Terms of Service regarding the posting of private information (such as a non-public email address), as stated in our Guidelines & Best Practices (https://twitter.com/rules). We have just received an updated notice from the complainant retracting the original request. Therefore, your account has been unsuspended, and no further action is required from you at this time.
Twitter Trust and Safety
No explanation, no apology, and yet significantly longer than 140 characters.
UPDATE LE TROIS: Twitter has, finally, broken its official silence on this matter, via a blog post by General Counsel Alex Macgillivray. The upshot: A partial apology -- not for booting Adams and creating this whole kerfuffle, but for "proactively identifying a tweet in violation of the Twitter Rules" and notifying NBC about it. In other words, they still feel they did the right thing by blocking Adams, even if they did the wrong thing first. Everybody clear on that?
Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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