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Summary:

Twitter set off its first major public relations crisis this week when it suspended the account of a journalist who had been criticizing the social media site’s corporate partner, NBC, over its Olympic coverage. It is finally trying to fix things.

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Twitter has finally addressed its role in a growing scandal over its decision to zap the account of a U.K. journalist who had been critical of NBC’s Olympics coverage.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Twitter’s general counsel Alex McGillivray issued a blog post describing how Twitter handles situation in which users post the personal information of other people.

Most significantly, McGillivray’s post also apologized for Twitter’s decision to tell NBC to file a complaint about the journalist, Guy Adams of The Independent:

That said, we want to apologize 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 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. [..]

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.

This appears to be the end of part one of a controversy in which Twitter, which has been a champion of free speech and transparency, appeared to break its own principles in order to champion a corporate interest.

For more background, see: Twitter restores reporter’s account, tweet with NBC e-mail remains

And to learn about its significance for the media and for Twitter, see my colleague Mathew Ingram’s insightful take: Twitter at a Cross Roadroads: Economic Value vs. Information Value

  1. Deeped Strandh Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Still: was it against the Twitter-rules?

    1. Good point, Deeped Strandh.. It was borderline against the rules (depending on whether you think the NBC exec’s email was private) but, in any case, Twitter is allowed to do whatever it damn likes under its terms of service.

      The bigger issue is that Twitter suggested to NBC to make a complaint, an action that looks a lot like reprisal against a journalist when you consider how Twitter singled him out (unlike, say, Spike Lee who posted the address of people he wrongly thought were implicated in the Trayvon Martin shooting)

  2. Nice try, Twitter, but you have showed everyone that money is what talks. You suspended a user so you could ass kiiss a money partner

  3. premalema.com Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    They do that alot

  4. Henning Kilset Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    That was one of the weakest apologies I’ve ever read. They keep going on about why they can’t let users publish other user’s corporate email addresses “because they might be used for private communications”. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

    Corporate Email addresses are public knowledge. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that firstname.lastname@companydomain.com is the valid email address of FirstName LatstName working at CompanyDomain.

    Essentially, Twitter is defending their numbnut policy by pointing fingers at an employee that was simply eager to please a major customer.

  5. In the meantime in Syria…

  6. Laurice Tatum Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Well– Like a spoiled child –they can’t except criticism whether constructive or not. They’re going to take their ball and close and account of the other player. What do you think would happen if the US team Counseled -“closed,” the Russian, German, Pakistan or Iran’s team slots in the Olympic games. In that occurrence who’s honor and public image is preserved?

  7. Richard Stevenson Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    You mean late Tuesday afternoon, right??

    1. Fixed, thanks Richard

  8. Shawn Griffin Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    My Twitter account just died.

  9. brian macdonald Tuesday, July 31, 2012

    Before this event, Twitter was seen as a neutral forum where people could speak freely without fear of reprisal. It played a significant enabling role in the Arab Spring, the Green Revolution in Iran, and the Occupy protests. This is why it has been banned in China.

    This event – the “outing” of a journalist, for God’s sake, to a corporate partner – is hugely damaging to their reputation. Who can ever trust Twitter again after this?

    1. No ad supported model can be neutral.

  10. Twitter did’nt seem to mind when Spike Lee posted the address of George ZImmerman via a Tweet … which turned out to be the wrong address.

  11. In Twitters defense, it seems to me that many large sites do not allow comments that go against the grain of their other large web partners objectives. To me, this is nothing new. The difference is it was a journalist.

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