Twitter Fails at Its Own Rules

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By Kirsten Salyer

Twitter should have known better. The company blocked the account of a U.K. journalist for posting the e-mail address of NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, in an effort that resulted in a resounding #Twitterfail.

Guy Adams, who had posted tweets critical of NBC’s Olympic coverage, tweeted Zenkel’s e-mail address Monday. Twitter alerted NBC, which filed a complaint. Twitter then suspended Adams’s account, Bloomberg News reports. (Adams’s Twitter account was reinstated this afternoon.)

Twitter, which has a partnership with NBC for Olympic coverage, promptly came under attack for favoring a business partner and subverting the very rules of the “Twitterverse” it created.

On Twitter, the standard assumption is that everything is public. To protect privacy, Twitter’s official rules state that users “may not publish or post other people's private and confidential information.” Fair enough. However, Adams wrote in the Independent that the NBC e-mail address he tweeted is publicly available. He also said that he might have deleted the tweet if Twitter had asked him to.

Once something’s tweeted, it never really disappears. As Deadspin highlights, Adams’s critical tweets of NBC -- for not showing live coverage of events -- were preserved on Topsy, a Twitter search engine, even after his account was closed. As any Twitter user (or politician whose deleted tweet has resurfaced on the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops site) has learned, nothing stimulates interest in a tweet like deleting it.

Twitter has proved its usefulness; from the Iranian revolution to the Arab Spring, the social network been a crucial tool of communication and organization. But the Olympics episode suggests the company's principles are a bit confused.

Jeff Jarvis, a professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, writes that Twitter should admit its mistake and reassert its primary loyalties:

Twitter needs to decide on, declare, and live by principles. I believe it needs to prove to us that it is not beholden to sponsors any more than it is to governments. It must fight for our trust or it will lose its value to us (and its shareholders).

In effect, the company should strive for debates to be on Twitter -- not about it.

(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.

-0- Jul/31/2012 21:21 GMT