Twitter has confirmed that one of its departments helped NBC report the account of journalist Guy Adams to another of Twitter’s departments as violating Twitter’s privacy rules, getting the account temporarily suspended. Twitter’s apologized for that interaction.
In a blog post today, Twitter’s general counsel Alex Macgillivray wrote:
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.
Twitter Doesn’t Act Proactively
The post explains that Twitter doesn’t proactively seek out violations of its guidelines, acting only when it receives reports:
The Trust and Safety team does not actively monitor users’ content. In all cases, whether the user is the head of a major corporation, a celebrity, or a regular user, we require a report to be filed at our abusive users webform. Not only do we need a report, but we need a report from the person whose private information has been posted, or someone who is able to legally act on their behalf. We do not proactively report or remove private information on behalf of other users, no matter who they are.
But It Did In This Case, So Says Sorry
But that statement goes against what happened with Adams’s case. Adams had tweeted the email address of an NBC executive in charge of Olympics coverage, when he was upset over the quality of that coverage, encouraging others upset to contact the executive.
Someone at Twitter, in the team working with NBC as part of its Olympics promotion deal with Twitter, spotted the tweet and suggested that NBC should file a complaint. That’s definitely Twitter being proactive, hence the apology it issued today. The apology went on to say:
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.
No Apology For Mistakenly Suspending The Account
Twitter hasn’t apologized for the actual suspension, though, and it probably should. The address was published on the web already, which means tweeting it didn’t violate Twitter’s rules (even if it was hard to find, as I believe). As I explained in an earlier post:
Skipping past how easy it was or not it was to find the address, since it was published at least once on the web before his tweet, technically that should have let Adams off-the-hook from having his account suspended. Twitter’s rules say:
“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 could be that Twitter assumed that the address wasn’t out there on the web previously. It could be that in checking for it, it didn’t search right. Perhaps it simply believed whatever NBC told it. None of these excuses help excuse Twitter for suspending his account. It shouldn’t have been done, and it should have been restored before NBC withdrew its complaints.
While it’s good that the Trust & Safety team at Twitter didn’t apparently realize that the complaint started from within Twitter itself, it’s unclear why it wasn’t determined that the address had already been published.
Moreover, it quickly became clear after the suspension became news that the email address had already been published. Despite this, it took a day for Adams’s account to be restored, and only then because NBC withdrew its complaint, not because the complaint was reviewed and deemed invalid, as it should have been.
Twitter: Corporate Email Can Also Be Private
Twitter also commented that while some might not consider corporate email addresses to be personal, in terms of its own policies, it seems to view that they do:
We’ve seen a lot of commentary about whether we should have considered a corporate email address to be private information. There are many individuals who may use their work email address for a variety of personal reasons — and some may not. Our Trust and Safety team does not have insight into the use of every user’s email address, and we need a policy that we can implement across all of our users in every instance.
My post below has more analysis on some of the questions the suspension has raised, in terms of what’s private, what’s public and how Twitter may need to reevaluate its rules.
- Why Adams & Not Others: Twitter’s Suspension Of Journalist’s Account In #NBCFail Flap Raises Questions