There are a whole host of issues raised by the case of Guy Adams, the British journalist whose Twitter account was recently suspended and then reinstated — including the potential clash between Twitter’s desire to forge commercial partnerships with media entities like NBC and its commitment to free speech. But the kind of behavior that Twitter engaged in by banning Adams also raises some other important issues for the company: as it expands its media ambitions and does more curation and manual filtering of the kind it has been doing for NBC, Twitter is gradually transforming itself from a distributor of real-time information into a publisher of editorial content, and that could have serious legal ramifications.
To recap, Twitter suspended Adams’ account several days ago because he posted the email address of an NBC executive as part of a stream of tweets criticizing the broadcast network and its Olympics coverage. According to Twitter, doing so was a breach of its “trust and safety” guidelines because the address was considered to be private (even though it was the executive’s work address). After widespread criticism of Twitter’s decision, Adams’ account was eventually reinstated on Tuesday, and the company’s general counsel Alex MacGillivray later wrote a blog post about the incident, in which he described what happened and apologized for how Twitter handled it.
As Matt Buchanan at BuzzFeed noted, however, it’s interesting to look at what Twitter apologized for and what it didn’t: the company didn’t apologize for suspending Adams’ account in the first place, despite the fact that the email address doesn’t really meet most tests of the term “private.” What MacGillivray apologized for was that a Twitter staffer — a member of the media team working with NBC on the official Olympics hub that Twitter runs in partnership with the broadcaster — was the one who alerted the network to the offending tweet, and instructed the company in how to file a complaint and have the account suspended.
This is important because it means that Twitter itself detected the offensive content and took action, rather than waiting for a user to report the message through the usual channels, and MacGillivray’s post goes to great lengths to make it clear that the company does not do this kind of thing on a regular basis, and will never (or should never) do so, saying:
“The Trust and Safety team does not actively monitor users’ content… we do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are… we should not and cannot be in the business of proactively monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is.”
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