|Image via CrunchBase|
The social media site took a hit to its reputation as a home to free speech as the fight for internet freedom enters new stage.
In January 2011 Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, together with the site's "trust and safety" arbiter Alex Macgillivray, posted a paean to freedom of expression under the portentous title: The Tweets Must Flow. They promised they would respect everyone's human right to unimpeded speech, vowing only to remove tweets that were illegal, spam or in breach of privacy.
Fine words. But this week the tweets stopped flowing for one of Twitter's users. When Guy Adams, the Independent's Los Angeles correspondent, went to issue his latest gobbet of wisdom in 140 characters on Monday he found his Twitter stream well and truly dammed.
The suspension of Adams' account, and its reinstatement on Tuesday, led to a storm of indignation culminating with an apology from Twitter. "We did mess up," admitted Macgillivray – now Twitter's general counsel – "and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again".
The most toxic aspect of the affair was the whiff of a commercial incentive. Adams was blocked after he posted a succession of tweets heavily critical of NBC for its tape-delayed broadcasts of the Olympics. When it was revealed that Twitter and NBC had entered into a business partnership for the Games, and that Twitter had tipped off the TV network to Adams's tweets, prompting the complaint that would lead to his suspension, the Twittersphere turned blue with rage.
Twitter's quick and abject apology may have nipped in the bud the suspicion that it censored Adams for commercial gain, but doubts will remain. "The whole incident reveals how easily people can be silenced in social media for commercial reasons if we are not vigilant in preventing it," says Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked who sits on the board of Global Network Initiative, a body that fights internet censorship.
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