Twitter wanted to be part of the story of this year’s Olympics in London through its partnership with NBC. It got its wish—but for the wrong reasons.It just restored the account of Guy Adams, the LA correspondent for The Independent, a British newspaper, after suspending it for three days—three days during which Twitter faced a firestorm of accusations of censorship and favoritism towards a big corporate partner.
Lots of companies routinely get accused of censorship, sometimes fairly, sometimes less so. But Twitter has repeatedly stuck its neck out as a force for good in the world and an active fighter against censorship, publishing reports about governmental and corporate efforts to suppress tweets.
We’ve repeatedly asked Twitter for comment on its suspension of Adams account, and they haven’t come forward with a statement yet. We think that in itself is a story.
Adams had been vociferously critical of NBC’s decision to delay its broadcast of the games’ opening ceremonies until U.S. primetime. He got a bit ranty, and at one point urged his followers to email Gary Zenkel, the NBC Sports executive in charge of the Olympics broadcast, and posted Zenkel’s email address.
In Twitter’s opinion, that violated a rule against posting private information, and it suspended Adams’s account after NBC reported the tweet.
But the exact circumstances are fascinating. NBC now says Twitter urged the broadcaster to report the post as a violation so Twitter could enforce its rules against the British journalist. (Like most Internet companies, Twitter doesn’t proactively monitor its service for violations; it relies on user reports.)
Hear that sound? That’s NBC throwing Twitter under the bus.
Adams also reports that NBC provided contact information for a Twitter PR rep, Rachael Horwitz, in an email about the incident. (Horwitz is responsible for publicizing Twitter’s media partnerships.)
So here’s our theory: Twitter’s first instinct was to circle the wagons. Twitter’s communications team had become part of the story—that’s never a good thing.
The whole point of its Olympics deal was to showcase how well Twitter could partner with other media organisations to their mutual advantages—and instead we saw a relationship under strain.
And a core cultural value of Twitter—free speech—came under question. For a lot of Twitter employees, free speech isn’t a talking point—it’s part of the mission they signed up for by joining the company.
We’re surely this decision was hugely contentious within Twitter’s headquarters. So whatever response the company comes up with is going to be carefully parsed.
Update: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized who had mentioned Horwitz, the Twitter PR rep. It was NBC, not Twitter. Business Insider regrets the error.