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How Twitter Conspired With NBC To Get A Critical Journalist Banned

Guy Adams has had a hell of a week. He’s covering the Olympics at the moment and had a few choice things to say about NBC’s coverage of the games. Those choice comments included email address of the president of NBC Sports, Gary Zenkel. NBC didn’t like that too much, and as a result, Adams was kicked off Twitter for a spell. It has been revealed today, however, that Twitter actively conspired to have Adams removed from the social network thanks to his criticism of NBC. How did it all go down?

Twitter’s general counsel Alex Macgillivray took to the company’s blog today to address the tweets at the centre of the Adams-scandal — something he says doesn’t happen very often.

Macgillivray tells us that Twitter’s Trust and Safety team don’t actually monitor any content on the social network, they merely respond to user-generated reports as they are submitted.

When someone tweets private information — like an executive’s email address in this case — Macgillivray says that Twitter suspends the account before asking the reported user to acknowledge the private information policy and pledge that they won’t violate it again. Following this email conversation, a user is unsuspended.

In the Guy Adams case, NBC complained to Twitter’s Trust and Safety team which led to the temporary ban, but who told NBC to do that? How did NBC know that by complaining, it would silence a journalist who has been vocally critical of the network’s coverage of the Games? NBC knew simply because Twitter told the network exactly how to complain and encouraged it to do so as soon as the critical tweets emerged.

Macgillivray writes of the incident (emphasis is my own):

We want to apologise for the part of this story that we did mess up.

The team working closely with NBC around our Olympics partnership did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter [Private Information] Rules and encouraged them to file a support ticket with our Trust and Safety team to report the violation, as has now been reported publicly.

Our Trust and Safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other.

Whether Twitter has apologised for this incident or not, it still means that the integrity of the social network — which has been hailed as one of the best sources for pure, unfiltered breaking news in the world — has been called into question and somewhat sullied as a result.

If Twitter’s commercial team saw something they thought hurt one of their partners in future, would they go to that partner and encourage them to report it? Have Twitter’s commercial interests come before the interests of free and open information sharing before? We just don’t know, and it’s that seed of doubt that’s going to tarnish Twitter long after the athletes have gone home and the Olympic cauldron has been extinguished.

Macgillivary promised that this wouldn’t happen again:

As I stated earlier, 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. As of earlier today, the account has been unsuspended, and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.

…and for the moment, his word is all we have to go on.

Guy Adams is now back on Twitter and is most likely enjoying the bump in followers he’s received from it.


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