Twitter apologizes for part of the Guy Adams/NBC/Olympics affair

Here's a followup on the earlier story about Twitter suspending a journalist's account after he tweeted the work email address of an NBC exec and asked people to write in complaining about NBC's broadcasts of the Olympics.

Twitter has confirmed that their own employees alerted NBC -- who are working in partnership with Twitter on the Olympics -- that the Independent's Guy Adams had tweeted the email address of an NBC executive, and encouraged NBC to fill in a form officially complaining about this.

Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray -- whom I like and respect -- has apologized on behalf of Twitter for this, saying that it was a violation of company policy to "proactively" police users' communications.

However, Macgillivray defends the suspension of Adams's account (which has now been lifted), saying that Twitter can't be expected to know, a priori, whether complaints about private email addresses being published are legitimate. The suspension here turns on whether the NBC address Adams tweeted was "public" or "private." When Twitter receives a complaint saying that a private email has been posted, it suspends the user in question and then entertains the user's side of the story.

I can see the rationale for this: if you stipulate that disclosing a user's personal information can sometimes cause serious harm, there's an argument to be made for erring on the side of caution at the start of the process, and then investigating further. However, this has to be weighed against the fact that Adams's own correspondence with Twitter's accounts team show that he quickly made a good case that what he had done did not violate Twitter's policy -- that the address he'd published was already public -- and yet the company didn't rescind his ban until much later. If you're going to shoot first and ask questions later, later had best be sooner.

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

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.

Our approach to Trust & Safety and private information (Thanks, Xeni!)



  1. Bullshit. 

    I’ve seen tweets with home addresses coupled with actual death threats that had complaints filed against them on twitter with no such account suspensions.  One need only look back at some of the tweets sent to Anita Sarkeesian and others that BB’s covered in the last few weeks.

  2. Why did the journalist need Twitter in the first place? Doesn’t he have some sort of existing journalism platform for disseminating information? 

    1.  He’s the LA correspondent of a British newspaper so he might reasonably expect to have a limited readership in the States.  Using the #NBCfail and  #NBCsucks hashtags was clearly a better way of communicating with people in the US who were similarly put out by NBC’s shambolic coverage of the games.

  3. Aww, how cute. “We” don’t proactively remove content; but our people working with one of our business partners just might inform them of content that they should consider requesting the removal of.

    A nice distinction. 

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