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This article was published on July 31, 2012

Must the tweets flow? NBC says Twitter alerted it to exec’s email address being tweeted

Must the tweets flow? NBC says Twitter alerted it to exec’s email address being tweeted

The suspension of journalist Guy Adams from Twitter for tweeting the email address of an NBC executive in protest against the TV network’s Olympics coverage has been the subject of much talk online over the past few hours. Now it turns out, according to The Telegraph, that NBC says it was Twitter that alerted them to Adams’ tweet, NOT the other way around.

This is an important difference. If NBC had simply filed a complaint and Twitter acted on it, it could be seen as perhaps an error of judgement on Twitter’s part. Yes, tweeting private email addresses is against the rules of the service, but suspension is a heavy-handed response – especially when plenty of people tweet out email addresses every minute (here’s a search for Gmail addresses being tweeted right now).

Now, if Twitter jumped first, prompting NBC to file a complaint, we’re into a whole different league of wrong.

Twitter tells us today that it has no comment on NBC’s claim, but pointed us to a Guardian article yesterday in which it confirmed that “it does not ‘actively monitor’ users’ accounts, and added that it was company policy not to comment on individual users.”

Assuming NBC is telling the truth though, I can see how this might have happened. Remember, NBC and Twitter have a partnership around the former’s Olympics coverage, with a US-only branded search portal for Olympics tweets. It’s easy to imagine a situation whereby some account executive within Twitter happened upon Adams’ tweet and wanted to make sure that the potentially lucrative corporate partners at NBC weren’t put off doing deals with Twitter thanks to a storm of angry emails prompted by Adams’ tweet. On that level it makes perfect business sense.

However, Twitter the business is still at odds with Twitter the communications platform. In a big way.

“The tweets must flow”

Back in January 2011, as the Arab Spring was kicking off, Twitter published an inspirational blog post called The Tweets Must Flow, in which the company’s Biz Stone and Alex Macgillivray opined:

“Our goal is to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression is essential.

“Some Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don’t always agree with the things people choose to tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content.”

If NBC’s claim is true, ‘The Tweets Must Flow: Except when they may offend our corporate partners’ seems more accurate now. Perhaps the idealistic spirit of that blog post was a last hoorah for true openness at a company that really needs to focus on pleasing its investors, not being an open conduit for global free speech.

Reigning in its ecosystem, nibbling on (if not yet eating entirely) Stocktwits’ lunch and now this, are all recent examples of how pleasing both users and shareholders is a more difficult balancing act for Twitter than for most tech companies.

Now give Guy Adams his Twitter account back, yeah?

Image credit: Matt Mercer