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Gini Dietrich

Reporter’s Twitter Account Suspended for Critiquing Olympics Coverage

By: Gini Dietrich | July 31, 2012 | 
130

Have you ever heard of censorship?

According to Dictionary.com, censor means, “An official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military or othergrounds.”

And now the “etc.” has extended to Twitter.

A critic of NBC and it’s coverage of the Olympics has had his Twitter account suspended…with no update on when it might be reinstated.

The Back Story

Like many of you, Guy Adams, a writer for The Independent in Great Britain, but resident of Los Angeles, took to Twitter to criticize NBC for its tape delay of the opening ceremonies, subpar reporting, and silly policy that won’t allow us to see the games in real-time, though (by the time we see the coverage) we already know what happens.

He was relentless in his tweets, but didn’t say anything (in my opinion) I haven’t seen from my friends all over Facebook and Twitter.

Am I alone in wondering why NBC Olympics think its [sic] acceptable to pretend this road race is being broadcast live?

Matt Lauer: ‘Madagascar, a location indelibly associated with a couple of recent animated movies.

Adams encouraged Lauer “to shut up” and called out Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, as the “moronic exec behind the time delay.” And he said Zenkel should be fired.

During one of his tweets about Zenkel, he tweeted the NBC executive’s email address and encouraged his followers to send him a note.

Twitter Account Suspended

This tweet was what created the account suspension.

Adams said he filed a story with The Independent and, when he went to Twitter, discovered his account was gone.

When working with Twitter support, he was told:

But Adams insists Zenkel’s email address is easily found on Google so he didn’t, in fact, violate the Twitter terms of service.

Censorship or “Rules”?

The suspension generated speculation that NBC has been involved in the decision from Twitter because they are partners during the Olympic Games.

NBC released a statement saying:

We filed a complaint with Twitter because a user tweeted the personal information of one of our executives. According to Twitter, this is a violation of their privacy policy. Twitter alone levies discipline.

Whether or not the relationship (and complaint from) with NBC had anything to do with the suspension, this feels very much like censorship to me.

While there isn’t an official reading through tweets (as according to the formal definition), the objectionable parts of Adams’s Twitter account have been suspended.

If Adams had tweeted Zenkel’s home address and phone number, I can understand the suspension. But an email address that is easily found with a Google search?

What do you think? Deserved suspension or censorship?

Update: This morning, The Telegraph reported that it was Twitter who alerted NBC to the offensive tweet and walked them through how to file a complaint.

Update: This afternoon, The Independent reported Adams’ Twitter account has been reinstated.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

123 comments
kstaxman
kstaxman

@tinu Not Twitters GR8est moment really bad pr 4 a social media comp that should know better what R they thinking

3sarkar
3sarkar

@Steveology @ginidietrich The tweet giveth out, the @Twitter taketh away?

CameronYardeJnr
CameronYardeJnr

@Steveology When the power of th corporate world falls to the power of the people?

andreibuspro
andreibuspro

Lesson learned. Never messed up with Twitter. It could hurt so bad.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

I just tweeted phone numbers and email addresses and surprisingly enough, they didn't suspend my account. What's a guy gotta do to get into Twitter jail around here? Yeah, this crap is straight out of Stalin's NKVD book... minus the torture and killings, of course

GoSeeWrite
GoSeeWrite

So what? Twitter is a private company. No one has a right to have anything broadcast on Twitter (or Facebook or LinkedIn or any other social media outlet). People can vote with their feet -- in this case, by not using the service. But as to what Twitter can do within their rights... they can "censor" any content they want. 

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

I tweeted that the constant squawking and overanalysis by the color commentators were driving me crazy, and IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU, MR. ANNOUNCER. Thankfully, my account is still active. 

Suzi_C
Suzi_C

NBC DESERVES to be criticized. My Canadian friends are sending me links to CTV! I think we should runs contest for "Most ridiculous question posed by an NBC interviewer." Andrea Kremer has asked two doozies poolside!

danperezfilms
danperezfilms

This is why social media for business isn't as simple as certain social media advocates would like to make it out to be. There's always gonna be a fine line between what you "think" you can tweet/post and what the company you work for will "allow" or deem "acceptable" for you to tweet/post. The more employees companies allow that freedom to, the more of these types of issues will rear their ugly little heads...

 

Just my stupid two cents.

Scott Harrison
Scott Harrison

Jenzings is right, this isn't a First Amendment Issue.  But I think the end result will almost certainly be Grass Roots Control of the Message 1, Effective Corporate Censorship 0.  Look what has happened thus far---Twitter's actions and the reporting of those actions will generate even more vilifying e-mails to NBC and Mr. Zenkel.  Who, after reading this story, didn't have maybe even a momentary urge to find Zenkel's e-mail address and send a message of support for Adam's.  Rather than kill the message, Twitter has grown it's audience.  They have merely demonstrated that when they can't be trusted there are plenty of other vehicles through which the message will pass.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

There are a couple of factors here that make me a little divided.

 

1) This is obviously a level of service that's only happening because Twitter and NBC are partners and, for whatever reason, Twitter is anxious to keep NBC happy.

 

2) However, Twitter is a private company and does not owe anyone the right to use their free service without abiding by the rules of that free service. 

 

I think they made the wrong call, big-time. But if they take this as a chance to start enforcing this policy in all cases of harassment and cyberbullying, they could wrest a bit of leadership out of the jaws of failure. With the recent news about YouTube going to real names to reduce comment spam, it's clear that the social Web is continuing to move away from the level of anonymity which enables abuse, bullying, and other forms of misuse that damage the reputation and value of these platforms.

 

I don't have very high hopes. Twitter doesn't have a great record of consistency. If the rumors of them walking NBC through the complaint process are true, they were incredibly out of line in offering a corporate partner not just the opportunity, but their overt encouragement, to get one of their own users suspended. 

Hajra
Hajra

Creating issues by calling a public email "private" is just not logical. End of story.

 

P.S. If we say anything mildly irritating to the Twitter bosses, will they suspend our accounts? Gulp... 

LisaMarieMary
LisaMarieMary

The quote from NBC? Sounds like the kid in school who went to the teacher to tell on you. Sheesh.

VirginiaMann
VirginiaMann

I guess in the voice if opposition here. I think that if twitter has a policy, it should enforce it, period. I don't care how easily the address is otherwise found. And, the policy should be enforced across the board, whether you're Justin Bieber or Guy Adams.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I don't agree with what Twitter has done here but I would be curious to dig into the Freedom of Speech discussion as I think it could be interesting.

 

I haven't had my cup of coffee yet so let's see if this makes sense:

 

We need to define what Free Speech is and what/who is covered because it is not unlimited. You can't advocate the violent overthrow of the government, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater etc.

 

You can write a letter to a newspaper but they don't have to publish it. What is the difference between Twitter and the New York Times.

 

Again, I low on coffee and I don't like what was done here because it feels "yucky"  but I don't know that we can say rights were violated or that the First Amendment is involved,.

 

It is worth digging into, makes for a very interesting discussion.

 

 

Latest blog post: To Be Remembered

magriebler
magriebler

Oh, it's back to life in gym class in middle school. NBC is having a hissy fit because no one likes them anymore and Twitter is just being a suck-up. The big issue (behind all this bluster about privacy rights) seems to be that NBC is frustrated about losing control over coverage of one of its biggest money generators. It's simply another illustration of how the media giants have not adapted to the new realities of audience expectation. (And thank you, @KenMueller, for a nice definition of the new prime time.) They can't control how news is disseminated anymore, and they're mad. And if the president of NBC can't handle a few nasty emails, he's in over his head even more than I thought.

RogerFriedensen
RogerFriedensen

Censorship, and inappropriate and inconsistent censorship at that. Zenkel is a public figure and can be reached through a number of channels, including email, telephone, work address, Twitter address, LinkedIn, etc. so why single out Adams. Especially in light of this post from JimRomanesko.com this morning in which he cites a question from @LauraGlu who was threatened on Twitter:

 

"I wonder why Twitter never deleted the account that posted my home address and threatened to dismember me."

http://jimromenesko.com/2012/07/31/explanation-please-twitter/

 

In addition, Justin Bieber posted the phone number of someone who he said had hacked a friend's account. Guess Twitter didn't see posting a personal phone number and posting a corporate email address as anything similar...

magriebler
magriebler

 @Scott Harrison It's easy to forget that Twitter is, after all, a media company in its own right. It simply outsources most of its content development. So while the delivery system looks different, at heart Twitter wants to control that content every bit as much as NBC does. And as we see more and more partnerships develop between new and old media, we'll see these kinds of issues continuing to emerge.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @jelenawoehr So, let me ask you this then. When others violated this same rule (as in the cases of Justin Beiber and Laura Glu), why weren't they shut down? The more this story unfolds, the more it becomes a state of Twitter wanting to keep NBC happy by not only pointing out the offensive tweet, but showing them how to file a complaint. If it really were about the policy, they should be doing it for everyone who complains.

jenzings
jenzings

 @TheJackB This really isn't a free speech/First Amendment issue. Those exist when *government* is the censoring entity.

 

This is between two businesses. As @KenMueller points out below, that changes the censorship argument somewhat--in particular if they had an agreement to pull what they feel is protected content.

 

This, to me, is really just an old-school entity (NBC) trying (and failing) to hold on to the reins of controlling public discourse about a widely covered event. It isn't working, and both NBC and Twitter look foolish here.

GoSeeWrite
GoSeeWrite

 @ginidietrich Why is that bad? If I owned a publishing outlet (and I do -- I own my blog) I very well censor things. If I an working with a sponsor on a project, I never would let a competitor hijack the comments on a post. Twitter is a business -- NOT a public good. If they want to do things they think will maximize their earnings, they are well within their rights to. And what people can do if they don't like it is... stop using them.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

 @ginidietrich That's what I'm saying -- if this turns out to be a change in strategy (to "actually enforce the policy") I'd be in favor, but if it's a one-time service to a big corporate partner, there's no silver lining.

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @jenzings  @KenMueller Yes, I agree. It is a privately held business conducting business with another and they are both trying to protect their interests.

 

Unfortunately this will probably blow over with a minimal amount of fuss and it will be back to business as usual.

Latest blog post: To Be Remembered

GoSeeWrite
GoSeeWrite

 @mdyoder    @ginidietrich No business owes you anything. Nor do you owe any business to do business with them. Businesses go out of business all the time because they make bad decisions. Happens daily.

 

If Twitter screws up they are no different than any other business. Is is bad business for Twitter to do what it did? Maybe. But that is THEIR decision. Your decision is whether you will continue to use your product.

 

Get elected to the Twitter Board of Directors and then you can make their business decisions for them. Short of that... you have a vote... vote with how you give them business or don't. Not a tough concept.

mdyoder
mdyoder

 @GoSeeWrite  @ginidietrich Yes, from a legal and business perspective, Twitter can choose to run their business any way they like. But, as @ginidietrich pointed out, we live in a world of transparency and honesty and Twitter should know better than most that you can't control the message or what people are saying. Word of mouth has become world of mouth and people will find a way to get the word out.

You said something about Google (or any company) doesn't owe it to the world to run their search like we want. Don't they? Aren't we the ones paying the bills? Don't they owe it to their stock holders to run their business in a way that attracts customers rather than repels them? Sounds like smart business to me. I could give you plenty of examples of companies who tried to control the message and bully an individual with their corporate dollars and law firms. It doesn't work like it used to in a world where people use social media.

GoSeeWrite
GoSeeWrite

 @ginidietrich Its not a First Amendment issue. That is reserved for government censorship. This is a private entity. One thing that annoys me (I am a lawyer) is when people confuse First Amendment issues with non-government action.

 

There is "censorship" every day, everywhere you look and there is nothing wrong with it at all, legally. 

 

Look, it is no different than a newspaper, say the NY Times, being more favorable to its advertisers if they wish. Why? Because they are a private media entity. They can cover whatever news they want to cover or not cover stuff they don't want to cover. They can erase comments on their website. They can "censor" as they see fit.

 

Twitter is no different. People seem to assume that social media companies are some sort of quasi-public interest entities. They simply aren't. Like any company (or any private individual), they are pretty much free to do what they want.

 

You don't like how they conducted their business. That's fine. You have a few recourses: (1) complain. Which you have done in this post and (2) stop using their service. Free markets work when people vote with their feet. But they owe you absolutely nothing. Nadda. They don't work for you. Nor do you elect their Board of Directors. They are no different than Wal-Mart or American Airlines. They are a private business that can set their own rules (within some legal limits) and then enforce them or ignore them as they see fit.

 

Similarly, I don't use google search anymore, because I disagree with how they conduct their business now. But does Google "owe it to the world" to run their search like we would want? Of course not. They run it as their own business.

 

 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @GoSeeWrite I totally disagree. This is a case of someone being critical of a big U.S. media outlet and being shut down for it. Even though it's not removed by the government, it's still censorship and we live in a country of freedom of speech and being able to say what we think. We also live in a world of transparency and honesty, which this flies in the face of. 

 

I do agree it's a free market and people are free to stop using Twitter if they don't like how they run their business. But I think it's bigger than that. Everyone is trying to (still) figure out how social media affects big events - such as the Olympics - and whether or not they can control it. In this case, it's pretty clear they tried to control the criticism and lost.

GoSeeWrite
GoSeeWrite

 @ginidietrich They don't need to apply to everyone equally. Twitter is a private company. They are free to do with their business as they wish. And the people that don't agree with how they do their line of business are free to.... stop using them.

 

Of course they give preference to a corporate sponsor. That's business. Makes total sense and frankly, they'd be moronic for not figuring out ways to promote their sponsors' interests. That's one way they make money, as a business.

 

Its a free market. People are free to stop using Twitter if they don't like how they are running their business. Twitter is not a public service. It isn't run by government. It isn't a non-profit. It isn't in the business of being "fair" or "reasonable." Its in the business of business, which is about making money.

 

If they end up losing money because of some practice they engage in (this one or others) because people stop using their service or because sponsors stop paying them money, they are likely to change their practices. But for people to think that Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn or Reddit or any other private business "owes us" something about how they operate is simply a misguided way of looking at how free markets and business works.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @GoSeeWrite The problem, though, is the same rules don't apply to everyone. Roger pointed out below there are at least two examples of the same types of tweets that have been distributed and those account holders have not been shut down. I don't mind if Twitter has a policy and, if someone breaks it, their account is shut down. But don't give preferential treatment to a corporate sponsor by not only alerting them to the tweet, but also showing them how to file a complaint. That or change the vision so you don't pretend to be altruistic and fight the man.

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