Twitter does something really, really, really stupid - will they fix it?

Update: Twitter has officially apologized for part of its actions in this story.

You've heard by now that Twitter suspended Guy Adams, a journalist from the UK paper The Independent after Adams posted the email address of an NBC exec and urged his followers to send in email complaining about the network's (shamefully bad) handling of its Olympics broadcasts. Dan Gillmor in the Guardian has some context about how totally, boneheadedly stupid Twitter is being here, and what they need to do to fix it.

Adams has posted his correspondence with Twitter, which claims he published a private email address. It was nothing of the kind, as many, including the Deadspin sports blog, have pointed out. (Here's the policy, which Adams plainly did not violate, since the NBC executive's email address was already easily discernible on the web — NBC has a firstname.lastname@ system for its email, and it's a corporate address, not a personal one — and was published online over a year ago.)

What makes this a serious issue is that Twitter has partnered with NBC during the Olympics. And it was NBC's complaint about Adams that led to the suspension. That alone raises reasonable suspicions about Twitter's motives.

Now, Twitter has been exemplary in its handling of many issues over the past several years, including its (for a social network) brave stance in protecting user privacy; for example, it has contested warrantless government fishing expeditions. So I'm giving the service the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and hoping that this is just a foolish — if possibly well-meaning — mistake by a single quick-triggered Twitter employee. If so, Twitter should apologize and reinstate Adams' account immediately. If it does so, there's little harm done — and the company will have learned a lesson.

If Twitter doesn't reinstate Guy Adams, it's a defining moment


  1. I’m guessing NBC has an official path for complaints that doesn’t include a direct email to an executive. So, how is posting his email and directing people to write him and complain any different from launching a cyber bulling campagin against someone?

    1. If there’s a cyberbulling law that covers this kind of activity, it seems like citizens of representative governments would have a difficult time letting their representatives know how they’d like to be represented.

      1. Representatives are elected, as representatives to serve the public. There’s a big gray area here … I’m mainly looking for discussion.

        1. What about being elected to office strips you of privacy protections?

          Whatever that is, why wouldn’t the same principle apply to officials of major public corporations?

          1. “officials” = persons + ‘of’ +”public corporations” = persons. Just saying, you know, “persons of persons” that’s where we are. I’ve stopped trying to make sense of anything American.

          2.  Thing is, no big politician answers all of their own e-mails, someone does that for them, and then sends out a reply, sometimes without the named recipient even knowing anything about it (for certain form-letter replies). So when you e-mail ‘congress.rep@gov.whatever’, you’re really e-mailing their office. The lower on the totem pole (towards city councilor) you go, the more likely it is that that e-mail gets directly to the person.

            Not sure how that works in all corporations though.

    2. If your email is visible from a  public site on the web, you should be prepared to receive email from the public.

      1. Yes, I receive spam as well. But this is talking about specifically calling for a campaign against one individual by publishing his information.

        1. Yes, yes, I know. Almighty executives should never have to face the consequences of their bad decisions, they have underlings for that.

        2. The original tweet identified the appropriate person in a corporation to direct complaints at. There was no request for “a campaign against one individual”. There was a request for people to let an NBC representative know how they feel about NBC’s programming decisions. The only possible reason you could describe this as  “a cyber bulling campaign” is that you cannot read very well. These are terms and a negative concept entirely absent from the initial tweet. You’re putting words in that mouth.

    3. If the email address wasn’t already widely available and previously published you might have a point. Shame for your point.

      Furthermore cyber bullying (what’s cyberbulling?) would mean the attacks are aimless and based on the target’s weakness or vulnerability, NOT inspired by a real cause over which the target has real responsibility and influence.

      Wouldn’t you be annoyed if you bought a defective product but there was no customer service number to ring when something went wrong?

      1. Cyberbullying is a word. You’re welcome.

        (Seriously, aren’t there more mature and responsible ways to express your disapproval than calling on others to spam somebody? Shame on twitter for doing what they did but the guy is still a douche. This is something you just don’t do; there are more appropriate channels for that. It’s not like we’re talking about an elected politician whose job it is — and should be — to deal with crap like this.)

        1. Where’s the request for SPAM in the original tweet? Is that what you call individuals who express personal opinions at the same time, spammers? You clearly don’t understand the meaning of the word SPAM or have any respect for collective action.

          1. “Spam” (not capitalized BTW) refers to sending a large number of unsolicited messages via email or other means of communication, commercial or not.

            Are we done being pedantic yet?

            Just send your mails to their PR guys, it _will_ be heard. That’s what they’re there for.

            Rendering the email account of some executive totally useless is not fair game. Especially for something as inconsequential as this.

          2.  Exactly, referring to massive amounts of e-mail sent (one at a time) by multiple different people, to one person (responsible for the subject at hand) was called a letter-writing campaign when we had to do things by hand, not by computer.

            Using a form that people just click-through is a bit annoying/grey for me, so if I want to send my views to a politician I always craft my own e-mail body, making sure to cover the main points as I see them.

            As long as each e-mail represents a real person clicking a button I would argue it’s not spam. Sometimes people refer to getting a flood of e-mails as ‘being spammed’, but that’s a new meaning for the term, usually used by someone very frustrated at the topic at hand. ‘Being flooded’ with e-mails is probably more accurate. Not screwing something up (or working to ensure that your staff don’t screw something up) vastly reduces the chances that you’ll get flooded with e-mails. SPAM happens though, to everyone (even if your filter catches it and you don’t see it).

        2.  So…  if a Corporate Official gets email expressing disapproval, it’s spam?  Because Corporate Officials should be protected from the little people.  The opinions of the little people are “crap” too.

          Welcome to the 21st Century.

          1. I’d be pissed if thousands of people sent me emails to tell me I suck (after being told to do so by somebody else, this is hardly a spontaneous reaction by single individuals), and I’m one of them little people.

            There are better and more effective ways to do this for _everyone_ involved in a society. There’s quite literally nothing productive that can come of this.

        3.  However if you had read the reply carefully you would notice that you unfortunately wrote “cyber bulling” and that is what was being picked up on. Cyber bulling sounds to me like goading someone to charge about on the internet.

          Anyone else?

      2. You guys are thinking like tech-savvy folks who would take the time to find or figure out his email address. Most people aren’t like that. 

        Adams’ Tweet basically took a dirt road of email traffic and deliberately tried to turn it into a superhighway. Jason’s right, and so is Twitter. This is cyberbullying.

        1. To say that encouraging people to make their opinions known amounts to cyber-bullying is absurd. Adams didn’t call for anyone to harass or threaten the NBC exec, only to communicate to him what a crap job NBC is doing with Olympic coverage.

        2. At what point does publishing an email address become Cyberbullying?  Can I share an official’s email address with a friend who is impacted by his/her decision so he can voice his complaints?

          How about 2 friends?  3? 50?  

          Calling this post “Cyberbullying” leads to one of two conclusions:

          1. Individuals affected by this person’s decisions should not have the right to contact an official responsible for the decisions.


          2. Individuals affected by this person’s decisions should not have the right to share information with one another.

          This person’s decisions affect millions of other individuals.  Should they not have a right to give feedback on how they have been affected?  Or do they only have that right if they do their own research to uncover the proper contact information?

    4. The CEO of a major media empire is not a private figure, but a public figure. And on top of that, he is the chief representative of an organization that not only extends its influence into everyone’s homes, but actively seeks to do so.

      If this were cyber bullying, a) Consumerist would be in deep shit for its EECB lists, and b) no one would ever get a positive outcome from a large corporation because no one in power would have any need to be burdened with any sort of responsibility.

      (Like Mitt Romney and Bain Capital between 1999 and 2002….)

    5. Here is my policy.

      ♥  No home addresses or phone numbers for anybody, ever.
      ♥  It’s acceptable to publish business addresses, phone numbers and e-mails for Presidents, Governors, Federal and State Senators and Representatives, Mayors of major cities, executives of large corporations or anyone else who almost certainly has a PR staff.
      ♥  It’s not acceptable to publish contact information for private individuals, minor functionaries, small town officials or anybody else who probably actually has to work for their paycheck and doesn’t have a staff to deal with a deluge of communications.
      ♥  In between those extremes, I make a decision.
      ♥  Web pages are fair game.

    6. Define bullying. Adams asked for people to tell the CEO what they think of NBC’s coverage of the games. What part of making a complaint is bullying?

      It doesn’t matter that it would have been a lot of emails making complaints. Those are still genuine complaints about a company’s actions directed to someone within the company who can do something about it.

      The reason for the suspension was not that Adams asked people to email anyone but that he published a private email account. He did not do this.

    7. Yes, please complain only in the manner we’ve proscribed.  Any complaints not sent directly to the people we’ve trained to ignore your complaints might actually be read by someone in a position to do something.  We can’t have that!

  2. C’mon Twitter… this junk is NOT what I expect from you. Respect and support for users is what differentiated you in the minds of your users from other social media. You’d be silly to jeopardise that reputation by supporting vested interests – especially when those interests are doing a terrible job.

    And NBC… pfft! Delayed telecast because it’s too hard to decipher those confusing Brits without the help of your brainless NBC commentators? More like delayed telecast to make more money from advertising you shameless jerks. Yeah, I really need commentary from some idiots who don’t even know who Tim Berners-Lee is.

    1.  Not only delayed telecasts, but leaving out the 7/7 segment of the event?  NBC, that’s really lame.

    1. I read ‘…tremendous burden of the contents of those e-mail messages’ several times.
      I just like that sentence.

  3. Twitter had its defining moment in January, when it agreed to cooperate with repressive regimes in censoring access to certain tweets.

    Their true colors have been flying for a while now, and they ain’t pretty.  Anything even remotely positive they do these days can only be interpreted as an unintended coincidence.  And yet for some reason, we keep using their service…

    1. You’re so correct. I think they went as long as any tech co. can in regards to not being evil… but morals and human happiness don’t factor into corporate bottom lines.

      Everybody kinda goes “uh-oh…” but they don’t want to lose Twitter’s convenience so they adopt a policy of “let’s wait and see what happens.”

  4. Hopefully more and more people will realize that Twitter and Facebook do not control the intertubes. You can actually make your own website, and nobody on earth can tell you what to do with it!

    1. Lol.

      Twitter and Facebook are not a means to make a personal website. They are social networks.

      Making your own website is a fantastic solution, unless you care about communicating with other people.

      Or are you assuming that because you’ve made the effort to build a website that it will be immediately filled with intelligent and relevant conversation?

      1. not being a tweeter or a facebooker I am happy to be corrected but are they really “filled” with intelligent and relevant conversation?
        Looking from the outside I’d always thought that the intelligence and relevance had to be dug out from an overwhelming pile of verbal diarrhea.

        1. There’s a lot crap on Twitter, but you only see it if you follow people who post crap. Think of Twitter as an RSS feed; you choose what accounts show up.

          Looking at my feed right now I see the following topics; currents trials pertaining to freedom of speech and privacy, cake, the Olympic games, Guy Adams, Syria, wherever Nat Geog have sent their travel photographer this time, the UK government’s cuts and consequences to the poor, sick and dying, books or shows I like or might enjoy, the ongoing Uncut and Occupy movements, feminism and patriarchy, and the invariable tweets about Tom Hiddleston’s face.

          That’s just my feed though.

        2. Well both platforms require you to build your own network. So in both cases it is what you make of it. Facebook arguably less so, as you’ll inevitable have a friends list full of people you didn’t like from school (I know I can ignore these people, but it feels rude. I’m a victim of my own manners). But my Twitter feed is relatively curated to provide a constant stream of interesting content – to the extent where it becomes quite distracting.

          If, however, you venture outside of your clique, you’ll be hit by a wall of ignorance. But aside from morbid curiosity there’s not much of an incentive to do this.

      2. Actually, this is really the root of the problem that has recently been brought to the fore by Brett Slatkin, and was even brought out when Alex Payne left Twitter: Twitter could have been a great infrastructure, that would have allowed you to pass the information between personal websites, or other entities, but they chose to become another silo, like Facebook.

        As for “intelligent and relevant conversation” you have to be kidding. Having a conversation on Twitter is like trying to have a conversation from a movingcar- it just is not what it is designed for. As for Facebook, this used to be possible, but now the UI has been so completely destroyed and infected with flotsam that it’s impossible there as well. Most people can’t even keep up with friends anymore, because Facebook started using an algorithm to determine what posts you see. Sure, there is a setting that you can use to indicate the you always want to see posts from a given user, but good luck finding it, and unless you get your entire group of friends to do the same it’s worthless.

        At least with personal websites you control your message and content. I know several LGBT groups and individuals that are constantly having their posts removed from Facebook because someone will flag the post because it shows two men kissing, or advertises an LGBT event. Sure, if you go through a whole process and yell loud enough it might get put back, but it just happens again. At least if they had personal websites they could just link to the content and this would happen much less.

        1.  I go to friend’s pages, wondering why I haven’t seen any posts from them recently, only to see a Lot of activity on their wall, it just didn’t show up in my feed!

    1. I don’t always agree with the actions of the BoingBoing crew, but I can’t fault them for this and besides, nobody is calling for the end of Twitter.

      Twitter is a great tool and there is no viable alternative. All of the BB editors know this and use it and post things daily because it is the best tool for the job, and the audience is there. Yes, of course it could be better in a lot of ways, but it’s still the best.

      The point of this article is to criticize Twitter – a well-loved tool by the people doing the criticizing – for heading down the wrong path. There have been signs that they have been heading down the wrong path for a long while now. But they’re not irredeemably evil yet. So making a fuss when they do something egregiously wrong is necessary because they’re still redeemable, and they do seem to respond in a positive way to criticism. 

  5. Does this sort of behaviour exempt them from common carrier status? So they are now  responsible for everything anyone posts? (If they don’t censor anything then they are clearly just a pipeline and don’t have any opinion on the content but if they filter, then they must approve everything that isn’t deleted ?) Or is that whole concept dead in the water these days?

  6. In the old days of the internet we had open protocols and a distributed set of providers. If your email provider acted like a dick, it was a hassle, but you could change provider.

    Now we have much more centralization (Facebook and Twitter being the most obvious examples), but we still treat them as if they are open protocols, and expect the freedom that gave.

    I don’t think the mail service in any country is allowed to reject your letters because they don’t like you. This is exactly what Twitter have just done. Do we need regulation of services like Twitter, to protect freedom, or should we all just stop using it and use something open instead?

  7. The most disturbing thing about this is that anyone could possibly care enough about a television show to bother with harassing someone about it.

    1. I assure you that had anyone decided to cut out a tribute to 9/11 then there would be a bazillion complaints. And I think they’d be justified.
      Probably Americans (sorry, generalising, most of the American here excepted) don’t really destinguish 7/7 from the generic ‘something horrid’s happened overseas’ but to London it’s important. And casually cutting away from something that significant shows a vile lack of respect.

      1. You miss the point.  It’s a piece of crappy national propaganda being transmitted by a crappy giant corporation into a crappy little screen in your living room.  It’s not real life.

        1. actually, in the case of the olympics, it is real life even if it is also a certain kind of propaganda. its also a chance to watch some of the most dedicated, most physically gifted athletes in the world do their stuff, and that means that the intrusion of a $1.5B contract by a crappy giant corporation that interferes with  people’s ability to do that has genuine implications.

      2. One person? No. Calling on thousands to do the same at roughly the same time, thereby interfering with his ability to work (by swamping his email account)? Absolutely.

        (Doesn’t change the fact that Twitter probably shouldn’t have done what they did though.)

        1. You just described how almost every online petition site like and others work. There’s nothing holy about an email account. It doesn’t differ from blocking a way into a building by protesting outside, or flooding the switchboard.

          1. Nah, you can filter standardized mails or mails from a single sender (your “online petition site”). That would be one of the more appropriate channels. Still conveys the point but doesn’t prevent you from working.

          2. Nah, you can filter standardized mails or mails from a single sender (your “online petition site”). That would be one of the more appropriate channels.

            To you, the “appropriate channels” are channels which can be easily blocked or ignored?

            Edit: Actually, from my point of view, disrupting NBC’s work is a great boon to society because I think NBC is a big drag on society. But that’s not really relevant.

            We’re talking about a corporate PR guy, right? How is it interrupting the work of a PR guy to complain about the company he’s doing PR for to him?

            I think you’re also overestimating the disruptiveness of email to someone who has an assistant (or several) as well as the numbers of emails that will actually be sent.

          3. Complaints to a company’s PR or Corporate Communications team are effective and very visible to those inside the company. So are complaints on Twitter; companies that care will try to work things out. All of this is not easily ignored, quite the opposite.

            Disrupting their work achieves nothing at all. Especially if it’s for reasons as important as slightly sub-par entertainment. Call the whambulance.

            Edit: replying to your last paragraph: my experience as somebody who has been employed by some of the world’s largest megacorps suggests otherwise. Now maybe NBC is totally different, I wouldn’t know… my guess would be it ain’t that different from any other large organization though.

          1. You are new at this ‘society’ thing, right?

            Being a jerk for tenuous reasons isn’t a good strategy.

          2. Being a jerk for tenuous reasons isn’t a good strategy.

            Someone should tell NBC and Twitter.

            (see what I did there?)

  8. Twitter is just a company. They can ban/block/censor whoever they want on their own website.

    1. True. And they don’t even need to explain.

      It’s just that they did explain, and that the explanation is misdirected, and that they are in bed with NBC, and that their ‘protection’ is exclusive to an NBC mandarin.

      It looks … odd … is all.

    2. I’m fed up with this meme. Just because they’re a company doesn’t mean they can do what they want. With the ever increasing privatisation of public services it is more and more important to regulate such companies. You can’t run a phone service and refuse to connect people who do business with your rivals, or black people, or gay people, or whatever whim you’re choosing to indulge in.

      Operating a company providing goods and services to the public comes with the responsibility to do so even handedly.

      1. “This is just a blog.”

        Everybody likes to discount his/her responsibility. Just the way it is.

    3. Sure, they are legally allowed to do so, and nobody here is suggesting they did anything illegal.  What is suggested is that their perfectly legal action was also a very stupid one. 

      You would have a point if and only if this were a discussion about whether Twitter should be fined or its executives imprisoned.  Being allowed to do a thing shields them only from prosecution for their actions, not criticism.

      1. There is an intermediate stage between it being illegal and resulting in prosecution and legal allowing only criticism and that is being vulnerable to civil suit. A court could determine that Twitter acted unreasonably and award damages against them.

      2.  In fact the public widely complaining about how a product is being produced should be Welcomed by a corporation, it’s free feedback on their performance. It’s something to use to guage how well they’re doing, and whether they want to keep doing the same thing or change it. If NBC is happy with the amount of viewers they have, they can keep doing the same thing, if they think they can pick up more viewers by changing how they run things, this feedback can help them do that.

        Complaints aren’t a Bad thing, they can alert you to faults in your work that you may not have been aware of. If you’re confident, you can ignore them or say “thank you for the feedback, we’re still happy with how we’re doing things”, and eventually the market will decide. If too many people do other things than watch the Olympics on NBC, their profit will drop and someone will get the boot or will be Very motivated to do something else.

        Don’t just get mad, vote with your feet, your wallet, your remote and your mouse!

    4. “They can ban/block/censor whoever they want on their own website.”

      And anyone can call them assholes if they disagree with that decision. No appeals to government or other overriding authority have been made here. You make a non-point.

  9. Please define “shamefully bad handling” by NBC. I’m not arguing the point because I don’t really know what the point is.  I haven’t watched enough to form an opinion and mainly just use the Olympic apps. Is this more than the Tim Berners-Lee gaffe and the drop of the 7/7 tribute?

    1.  The 7/7 dropping was  a deliberate choice, and rates being called “shameful”.  The Tim Berners-Lee gaffe is just a result of having happy airhead commentators, and doesn’t bother me.

  10. Yes, I was with some friends while they had the TV on in the background and I was shocked by the references to Idi Amin and Borat.

  11. I think we should all send him an email apologizing for sending him email.

    So… what’s a private email address? I didn’t know about these, could be useful if I want an address nobody can reach.

  12. twianto: Your single point is that someone might have received a lot of unwanted e-mail because of somebody else posting his address. Take it or leave it, this is *NOT* a reason to shut the gates for the poster. If, and only if, it would have been illegal or against the TOS, or even against interwebz conventions, the service operators should have asked the purported offender to take down the post, and to apologize. Especially if it’s a journalist we are talking about. He is, by profession, somebody whose right to communicate freely is specifically guaranteed by a lot of constitutions all around the world.

    That’s the point here. Not how you write “spam” or “cyberbullying”.
    Now, please, take your fish.

  13. My twitter account withered and died the moment I learned (right here on BB) that they intend to censor tweets when asked to by other countries. Now we know they will censor tweets when someone they like asks them to. I left a parting tweet, and that’s where it stands.

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