After being shut down for 24 hours, British journalist Guy Adams's Twitter handle has been reinstated, and Twitter has now issued a public mea culpa for its role in urging NBC, a corporate partner in creating content for the Olympics, to file a report against him.
In a blog post, Twitter's general counsel Alex McGillivray acknowledges that Twitter committed a mistake when it flagged one of Mr. Adams's tweets to NBC. In it, he had published the corporate email address of an NBC executive in charge of Olympics coverage. Twitter urged NBC to file a report to Twitter's own "trust and safety" team to have the account suspended. Mr. McGillivray noted that the trust and safety team's role in cases where private information is exposed isn't to actively monitor content, but instead to respond to reports made by affected users or by someone who can legally act on their behalf.
According to Mr. McGillivray's account of what transpired:
"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."
Mr. Adams, the Los Angeles correspondent for The Independent, had posted a series of tweets since the start of the games criticizing NBC's coverage of the Olympics (e.g., "Am I alone in wondering why NBColympics think its acceptable to pretend this road race is being broadcast live?"). He was informed via an email from Twitter yesterday that his account was being suspended due to his posting the corporate email address of Gary Zenkel, president of the NBC Olympics. Mr. Adams tried to make the case yesterday to Twitter that the email address was easily searchable on Google, and thus he hadn't violated Mr. Zenkel's privacy.
NBC confirmed to Ad Age that it had retracted yesterday's complaint.
"Our interest was in protecting our executive, not suspending the user from Twitter," a spokesman said in a statement. "We didn't initially understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it."
Twitter declined to comment on the matter.
News of the incident seems to be reverberating around the web because it's so at odds with how Twitter usually positions itself: as a tool helping to democratize the flow of information and giving voice to disenfranchised people. Both Twitter and Facebook have embraced the characterization that their platforms helped the Arab Spring uprisings gain momentum, for example.
Twitter did announce in January that it would start deleting tweets to be in compliance with local laws, citing the ban of pro-Nazi content in countries like Germany and France by way of example of how it would apply. It said that those determinations would be made on a case-by -case basis.
"We hold freedom of expression in high esteem and work hard not to remove tweets," a Twitter spokeswoman said at the time.
In today's blog post, Mr. McGillivray also responded to the contention by Mr. Adams and others that a corporate email address is not private.
"There are many individuals who may use their work email address for a variety of personal reasons -- and they may not," he wrote. "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."