DC Trawler

Twitter semi-apologizes for instantly destroying the goodwill it’s built up over the years

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Did you know that Twitter has a deal with NBC Sports to promote their coverage of the Olympics? They sure do. And coincidentally, the other day somebody at Twitter noticed that somebody on Twitter was saying mean things about NBC’s Olympic coverage. So naturally, that Twitter employee showed NBC how to file a complaint to get the guy kicked off. The charge was that the “offender,” Guy Adams of The Independent, had posted “private information.” This “private information” consisted of an NBC executive’s corporate e-mail address.

This didn’t turn out so well. For Twitter.

Now observe as Twitter goes for the gold in the 100-Meter Backpedal. On the official Twitter blog, some poor flack used up way more than 140 characters to repair the damage to the company’s public image:

We want to take a moment to explain some of our general Trust and Safety policies and procedures, and address the specific case at hand that has unfolded over the past 48-hours (we normally don’t address matters pertaining to individual accounts for the privacy of the account, but here the relevant communications are now public).

When our Trust and Safety team receives a report from a user explaining that his/her private personally-identifiable information has been posted on Twitter, we investigate the issue and temporarily suspend the account if it is found to be violating our Guidelines & Best Practices…

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…

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.

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…

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.

So, as I read it, they’re still claiming Adams was in violation of Twitter’s rules for posting this:

And yet they’ve unsuspended him. Does this mean tweeting somebody’s corporate e-mail address is okay, or not okay? Will you be punished for it, or only when that punishment doesn’t backfire massively on Twitter?

I guess they should get credit for making a half-to-two-thirds apology, but I’m not sure they’ve really clarified things. And if Gary Zenkel of NBC Sports didn’t want people e-mailing him, this cannot have worked out the way he wanted.

Writing at the Journalism Foundation, Adams has some thoughts about the Twitter/NBC alliance and what it means for the future:

The corporate controversy comes at an interesting moment in Twitter’s history. Though the firm has been astonishingly successful at attracting users – there are upwards of half a billion – it seems to have so far had only marginal success at leveraging those users into cold, hard cash. Though revenues are growing, there are almost no analysts who believe Twitter is yet making a profit. And it is now six years old.

This is where Twitter’s relationship with NBC becomes still more fascinating. At present, the micro-blogging site makes all its money from straight advertising, which is not particularly lucrative. Its Olympic Games tie-in with the broadcaster, involving branded web pages and cross-promotional knick-knacks, showcases the sort of innovative and multi-faceted deal which could drive Twitter’s commercial future.

To succeed in that endeavour, Twitter will have to get chummy with a slew of major corporations. And, if what occurred when they got into bed with NBC is anything to go by, this will result in ongoing pressure for Twitter to compromise its core principles in order to serve their paymasters’ interests. Twitter could, in other words, become yet another new media platform which was originally dedicated to democratic self expression, but compromised its core values due to narrow self-interest.

When that happens (if it isn’t happening already) and people don’t trust Twitter anymore, something else will come along to take its place. People will vote with their eyeballs.

Just ask Friendster and MySpace and Digg, oh my.

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Jim Treacher