Olympic coverage tweet puts Twitter at centre of scandal
Microblogging site reverses ban on NBC-bashing journalist
By Amber Hildebrandt, CBC News
Posted: Jul 31, 2012 8:35 PM ET
Last Updated: Jul 31, 2012 9:02 PM ET
Twitter is typically the medium where scandals break out, but rarely does the microblogging site find itself at the centre of one.
That changed Tuesday after a series of developments that played out in real-time on the social media platform.
The saga began Friday when Guy Adams, a Los Angeles-based reporter for the British daily newspaper The Independent, joined a growing chorus of frustrated Americans complaining on Twitter about NBC's delayed Olympics television coverage. But the journalist took it one step further, posting the work email address for NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel and encouraging others to contact him.
Twitter suspended Adams' account — and the story went viral Monday as users questioned Twitter's cozy corporate connection to NBC, a partner during the Olympics, and how its policy of forbidding "non-public, private emails" applied to a corporate email account.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Twitter apologized, sending a blog entry out into the Twitterverse in hopes of undoing the damage on the same medium it was done.
"We did mess up," Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray wrote in the blog. "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."
Twitter's policy clearly states it does not proactively report or remove content on the behalf of others. The company vowed to ensure this does not happen again — and suggested a rethink on its policy of considering work emails to be private.
'This, too, shall pass'
"They’ve become more of a 'business,' whereas a year ago they might have looked at things a little bit differently."—WebiMax founder Kenneth Wisnefski
But after two days of Tweets critical of Twitter, is the damage done?
In the fickle world of the internet, where attention spans are as short as a Tweet, digital communications analyst Mark Blevis says it's unlikely.
"I call it the 'This, too, shall pass' effect," said Blevis on the phone from Ottawa. "It won't be forgotten. But the relevance of the issue or the impact of the issue will drop to a level where it just becomes noise."
For Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of internet marketing company WebiMax, the story marks a seminal moment in the growth of Twitter from a startup into a six-year-old company.
"They've become more of a 'business,' whereas a year ago they might have looked at things a little bit differently," said Wisnefski.
"From a business standpoint, I think it's going to give people an opportunity to give some conjecture about what Twitter's next step in the process of their evolution."
Users took to Twitter to protest what they perceived as a breach of trust and freedom of expression.
'Suspect' behaviourTwitter CEO Dick Costolo, shown during a press conference before the Olympics, may have to rethink the company's business relations (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
American journalist Jeff Jarvis was vocal on both Twitter and his blog, BuzzMachine, noting that while Twitter "behaved honorably" in its famous delay of a maintenance shutdown during a crucial moment in the Arab Spring, in business matters it has acted in a "suspect manner."
"I believe it needs to prove to us that it is not beholden to sponsors any more than it is to governments," wrote Jarvis.
It's less than a week since Twitter proudly tweeted its partnership with NBC as an attempt to "bring U.S. fans closer than ever to the Olympic games."
The partnership, with NBC Olympics, a division of the NBC Sports Group, includes an Olympics event page at Twitter.com/#Olympics, plus on-air promotions across NBCUniversal's networks that air Olympic programming.
The outlook for Twitter was looking rosy when the 2012 Olympic Games began, minus a brief blackout the day before that it quickly apologized for. Around that time, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources, that Apple was mulling an investment in Twitter, one that could push its value to more than $10 billion, up from an $8.4-billion valuation the previous year.
Freedom of expression vs. business interests
And its performance at the Olympics — where spectators amassed on the platform in such high volume it disrupted electronic updates to broadcasters on racers' times — was deemed gold-medal worthy by some.
"It's brought back to attention the value of Twitter and in my eyes, given it a lot more value than before the Olympics started," said Wisnefski.
Twitter has more than 500 million users, with about 170 million who are regularly active, according to recent numbers by analytics firm Semiocast.
Though many analysts suggest #Twitterfail will be a blip in the ever-steady stream of 340 million tweets a day, some are hoping it raises questions about a larger issue.
Andrew Clement, a professor in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information, says the issue is symptomatic of how popular social media can serve as "robust fora for free expression" but also how business interests can override the platform's principles.
Clement says he'll be watching to see what rules get established as the story plays itself out.
Blevis, however, says outside the "passionate few" concerned with internet freedom and democratic rights, people will probably move on to the next scandal by tomorrow.
"People have short memories," he said.
Top News Headlines
- Neil Macdonald: Washington's obsession with leakers
- Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are just the most prominent targets in an all-out legal and propaganda campaign that America's security apparatus is mounting against leakers everywhere, Neil Macdonald writes. more »
- Who's who in the Senate expense controversy
- Keeping track of the names popping up in the ongoing Senate expenses controversy — from the investigators to the four senators themselves — could be a difficult task for even the most seasoned political observers. more »
- How open is Ottawa's new 'open data' website?
- Treasury Board President Tony Clement is touting the federal government's revamped data portal as a "new natural resource." But that online window for previously published data arrives at the same time the government faces controversy over just how open it really is. more »
- 2 men jailed in Dominican wedding fight return to Canada
- Two Canadian men who were detained in the Dominican Republic for nearly three weeks after a post-wedding fight broke out at a resort have returned to Toronto, the latest step in a drama that the wife of one of the men said was "like a scene from the movies." more »
Latest World News Headlines
- Canada to send peacekeeping troops to Haiti
- A handful of Canadian troops are about to take part in peacekeeping operation in Haiti, under the command of Brazilian forces, in a long-delayed mission that has been kept inexplicably low on the political radar. more »
- World's displaced people at 18-year high of 45.2 million
- The Syrian civil war contributed to push the numbers of refugees and those displaced by conflict within their own nation to an 18-year high of 45.2 million worldwide by the end of 2012, the UN refugee agency says. more »
- Google asks secret court to lift gag on surveillance
- Google is asking the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to lift its long-standing gag order on how often the company is asked to turn over data about its customers to the U.S. government. more »
- Brazil protesters keep up pressure on government
- Thousands of demonstrators flooded into a square in Brazil's economic hub, Sao Paulo, on Tuesday for the latest in a historic wave of protests against the shoddy state of public transit, schools and other public services in this booming South American giant. more »
- What happened to Betty Anne Gagnon? Jun. 18, 2013 3:09 PM Betty Anne Gagnon's mental disabilities didn't stop her from finding work, or finding friends. But when she needed it the most, she was unable to find help.
- 2 men jailed in Dominican wedding fight return to Canada
- MPs pass NDP motion on expenses, adjourn for summer
- Police probe death of woman, 27, in Kelowna home
- Hundreds attend 'Change Brazil' protest in Vancouver
- Are e-cigarettes safe to puff?
- Huge ancient city at Angkor Wat revealed by lasers
- Most groups don't want return of Trudeau speaking fees
- Parents of son 'brutally beaten' playing hockey want charges
- Tim Hortons being circled by Wall Street hedge funds