June 25, 2024

Media Decoder Blog: Twitter Ban on NBC Critic Stirs Backlash and Backpedal

Guy Adams the Los Angeles correspondent for The Independent, shown at the 2010 Oscars. He posted the work e-mail address Gary Zenkel, an NBC executive.Guy Adams the Los Angeles correspondent for The Independent, shown at the 2010 Oscars. He posted the work e-mail address Gary Zenkel, an NBC executive.

Twitter has become the default forum for people when they have a complaint. Even when that complaint is about Twitter.

The company found itself at the center of a firestorm when on Sunday it suspended the account of Guy Adams, a British newspaper reporter for The Independent, after he posted complaints about NBC’s tape-delayed Olympics coverage. His posts included the e-mail address of Gary Zenkel, the head of NBC Olympics.

On Tuesday, both Twitter and NBC backpedaled. While Twitter officials stress that the company generally does not monitor content, Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel, said in a statement on Tuesday that Twitter “did proactively identify a Tweet that was in violation of the Twitter rules and encouraged them” — NBC — “to file a support ticket with our Trust and Safety team to report the violation.”

Chloe Sladden, vice president for media at Twitter, personally apologized on her Twitter feed for “the oversight.” NBC also issued a statement apologizing for having the reporter’s account suspended. Twitter then reactivated the reporter’s account.

“Our interest was in protecting our executive, not suspending the user from Twitter,” an NBC spokesman said in a statement. “We didn’t initially understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it.”

But the initial suspension already put both companies out of favor with many Twitter faithful. Out of solidarity for Mr. Adams, supporters also started posting the e-mail address of Mr. Zenkel, the NBC executive. They paired the hashtags #guyadams with #NBCFail, which has become an all-purpose tag for criticisms of NBC’s coverage.

Some posters called the incident a “watershed moment” for social media and accused Twitter executives of censoring Mr. Adams’s account “to cater to corporate whim.” Others threatened to boycott NBC’s Olympics coverage.

“Thanks to @NBCOlympics behavior wrt @GuyAdams I won’t be watching any more Olympics. Sorry, London,” wrote one follower.

According to Topsy, an analytics and research company that tracks Twitter activity, over the last 24-hour period, there were more than 32,000 mentions of #NBCFail and more than 14,000 mentions of @guyadams.

Twitter has always enjoyed an extraordinary amount of good will from its users in part because it does not require them to sign in under their own names (unlike Facebook) and it allows almost unlimited free speech. The suspension of Mr. Adams’s account seemed like an exception to Twitter rules based on a corporate relationship.

In July, Twitter and NBC announced a partnership to share their Olympics coverage across both of their platforms. NBC would promote Twitter’s Olympic event page through on-air graphics and Twitter would include NBC commentators on its Olympic events page.

Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said that the incident was a departure from Twitter’s generally strong reputation as a supporter of free speech.

“Twitter has a pretty strong history in defending free speech. They’ve stood up for users in court. They’ve publicly written about their dedication to free expression,” said Ms. York. “Twitter needs to do more work this time around to make people trust them again.”

The problems started on Friday evening when Mr. Adams, who is based in Los Angeles, started posting on Twitter how frustrated he was that NBC was delaying television coverage until prime time. He wrote, “Am I alone in wondering why NBColympics think its acceptable to pretend this road race is being broadcast live?” As his frustration grew, he filed a post to Twitter that was heard throughout social media.

“The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think!” He ended his post with the work e-mail address of Mr. Zenkel. Soon he was retweeted and some angry followers added the hashtag #NBCFAIL.

That’s when Twitter officials abandoned their usual stance and contacted NBC employees they knew through their Olympics partnership. They told them about the post and advised them on how to suspend Mr. Adams’s account. Writing in The Independent, Mr. Adams said he discovered that his account had been suspended “for posting an individual’s private information such as private e-mail address.” But he stressed, “I do not wish Mr. Zenkel any harm.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Adams said he had about 4,500 followers before he was kicked off Twitter. By Tuesday night, after Twitter reinstated his account, he had 16,300 followers. The attention he gained from being blocked has left his phone ringing nonstop. He has had to disconnect it so his wife, who is due with their second child next week, and his two-year-old can sleep.

He said he will continue to use Twitter for his work.

“Doing a journalist’s job without Twitter these days is nigh impossible. It is an essential tool of my trade,” said Mr. Adams. “I’m now freed. So I can get on with my job, which is far more interesting.”

Nick Bilton contributed reporting from San Francisco.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/twitter-gets-a-backlash-of-its-own-over-adams-suspension/?partner=rss&emc=rss

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