Twitter's censorship of Olympic critic Guy Adams: The fallout

The social-messaging site and NBC try to silence a vocal opponent of the network's delayed Olympics coverage — and incite the internet's rage instead

Journalist Guy Adams' Twitter profile photo
(Image credit: Adams)

Twitter has become the go-to place for people to gripe about, well, anything: Bad movies, political hypocrites, vegan restaurants, NBC's coverage of the London Olympics, and much more. But recently, a top target of Twitter kvetching has been Twitter itself. The story begins on Friday, when Los Angeles–based British journalist Guy Adams tweeted a series of bitter complaints about NBC's decision to delay airing the Olympics until primetime; on Sunday, Twitter suspended Adams' account, citing a complaint from NBC; by Tuesday, after tweeps had excoriated Twitter, both NBC and the social network had relented and Adams returned triumphantly to the Twittersphere. Here, what the controversy means for Twitter and the future of free-tweeting:

Why did Twitter suspend Adams' account?

In one of his tweets, Adams posted the email address for NBC Olympics chief Gary Zenkel, urging Twitter users to "tell him what u think!" about the network's Olympics coverage. NBC complained, and Twitter cracked down, citing its policy against "posting an individual's... private email address." But Adams, writing in Britain's The Independent, argues that Zenkel's corporate email account wasn't "private" at all. (Others disagree.) Regardless, things really got dicey for Twitter after an NBC executive told Britain's The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Twitter alerted NBC to the offending tweet in the first place. Twitter admitted that one of its employee had encouraged NBC to file a complaint, leading to Adams' suspension.

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Why would Twitter alert NBC?

Twitter says it simply made a mistake. Company general counsel Alex Macgillivray said that proactively reporting questionable tweets "is not acceptable." Not good enough, says Therese Poletti at MarketWatch. As many have noted, Twitter and NBC have a partnership to share their Olympics coverage, and this debacle will "hang over the company's chirpy little bird like a dark cloud."

Why is this such a big deal?

"Twitter is a company with enormous customer goodwill," built up over years of aiding democratic uprisings in the Middle East and standing up for users' free-speech rights, says Choire Sicha at The Awl. That goodwill has allowed the social sharing site to slip advertisements into our Twitter feeds without much backlash and encouraged users to stick with the site during outages. "To watch them trash all that in 24 hours has been unreal." Get over it, says Michael Humphrey at Forbes. Twitter is not a "community" or a "tool." It's a media company, and you're not "Twitter's customer" or partner; NBC is.

Does anyone come out of this mess looking good?

Not on the corporate side. Twitter emerges looking like a tattle-tale, while NBC looks thin-skinned and censorious, says Kashmir Hill at Forbes. But "the drama has been great for Guy Adams." He's "built up lots of journalistic cred" and become a cause célèbre among the Twitterati. Before the suspension, Adams tells The New York Times, he had about 4,500 Twitter followers; when his account was reactivated he had 16,300. But the attention hasn't been wholly welcome: His phone rang so much he had to unplug it so his very pregnant wife and 2-year-old child could sleep.

Ultimately, how much will this harm Twitter?

Not much — and that's the "hilarious part" of this uproar, says Sicha at The Awl. "It's not like angry Twitter users will boycott Twitter. They have to have somewhere to gripe." Even Adams says he will continue using Twitter, telling The New York Times that it's "an essential tool of my trade" and that it would be "nigh impossible" to function as a journalist without Twitter.

Sources: The Awl, Daily Telegraph, Forbes (2), Guardian, Independent, MarketWatch, New York, New York Times, Search Engine Land

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