Twitter backs down, but why did I get banned?

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iol scitech june 13 twitter INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Twitter just began rolling out a new search infrastructure that will allow anyone to search every tweet ever published publicly. Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

London - In the green room at CNN's Los Angeles studio on Tuesday night, a producer asked for my reaction to the news that Twitter had decided, in its words, to “un-suspend” my account. “I feel,” I replied, “like Nelson Mandela walking through the streets of Cape Town, circa 1990.” The producer looked at me, aghast. “Whatever you do,” she commanded, “do not go and say that when we put you on air.”

Joking aside, the situation neatly summed up the absurdity of a course of events which allowed a snarky, 140-character-or-less piece of prose, which ought to have sunk without trace, become the subject of a viral news story which is still being debated across the international media landscape. At about 6pm, London time, shortly before that green-room conversation, I had received an email from “Twitter support,” announcing that I was no longer verboten in Twitter-land.

“Your account was suspended because a complaint was filed stating that you had violated our terms of service,” it read. “We have just received an updated notice from the complainant retracting the original request. Therefore, your account has been unsuspended, and no further action is required from you at this time.”

End of story, right? Well... yes and no. Twitter's decision allows me to Tweet again. That's happy news; or, to use the vernacular of social media, *happy* news. But there are plenty of things that it does not do, some of which have set awkward precedents. Twitter has not yet explained how exactly the tweet that led to my suspension is supposed to have broken its “privacy policy,” which forbids users from posting “private email addresses” but says nothing about corporate email addresses, which is what I had actually shared.

It has not explained how its decision to suspend me can be squared with a clause in its own privacy policy which states that: “If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation” of the company's terms of service.

The email address of Gary Zenkel, the NBC executive at the heart of this affair, was posted on a blog established in 2011 by a group urging supporters to “boycott NBC”/. I found it there, prior to sending out Friday's offending tweet, in roughly 30 seconds via Google. Did Twitter's “trust and safety” department simply forget about its own rules when dealing with the complaint that led to my suspension? Or did it wilfully ignore them? We don't yet know.

There are wider issues at play. The company has yet to properly address growing suspicions that its decision to suspend my account was motivated by a business relationship with NBC. The firms are running a cross-promotion throughout the Olympics. Was that why it chose to ignore its own rules?

Yesterday, the website, which is supposedly dedicated to the democratic flow of conversation, did admit it had actually contacted its corporate partner urging it to complain so that my account could be shut down in the first place. A mea culpa on its blog said last night: “We want to apologise for the part of this story we did mess up. 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... Our trust and safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other. We do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are.

“This behaviour is not acceptable and undermines the trust our users have in us. We should not and cannot be in the business of proactively monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is - whether a business partner, celebrity or friend... we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.”

THEY BROKE THE RULES SO WHY NO BAN?

MIA

In May 2010, the rapper, left, took revenge on journalist Lynn Hirschberg - who wrote an unflattering profile of her in the 'New York Times' magazine - by posting her phone number on Twitter and suggesting her many thousands of fans call the author to talk about “the NYT truth issue”. MIA was not chastised by Twitter, reportedly because Hirschberg did not press the issue.

SPIKE LEE

In March, the film director - who has more than 320,000 Twitter followers - retweeted a Florida address which was said to be that of George Zimmerman, the man accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. It turned out to be the address of an elderly couple who were forced to flee. He apologised and reportedly settled with the couple, but was not suspended.

ROSEANNE BARR

The American comedienne, above, followed in Mr Lee's footsteps - but this time successfully tweeted Zimmerman's parents' address. She swiftly deleted the tweet under a shower of criticism from many of her followers (numbering more than 100,000) - but again was not suspended from the site.

BARBRA STREISAND

The singer's row over the online publication of photographs of her Malibu home may not have played out on Twitter, but it did coin a term - “the Streisand effect” - which is now commonly seen across social networks. In 2003, attempts by Streisand to get the pictures taken down resulted in them going viral and ended up drawing more attention to the images. - The Independent

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