NBC disavowed Tuesday the short-lived suspension of British journalist Guy Adams of The Independent from Twitter for criticizing NBC's coverage of the 2012 Olympics and broadcasting a network executive's corporate email address.
Speaking to the liberal political blog Talking Points Memo, an NBC Sports spokesperson said, "We didn't initially understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it."
Earlier on Tuesday, Adams' suspension from the social media site was rescinded as well. "Oh," he tweeted at the time. "My Twitter account appears to have been un-suspended. Did I miss much while I was away?"
Adams later added that he had ultimately received a terse email from Twitter itself, simply stating, "We have just received an update from the complainant retracting their original request, therefore your account has been unsuspended."
While many assumed that Adams was originally suspended from Twitter because of his harsh criticisms of NBC's coverage and distribution of the 2012 Olympics, Archie Bland, a colleague of Adams' at The Independent, stated that Adams was banned from the site because he posted the email address of a staff member at NBC.
"For clarity's sake, [the suspension] came after he mentioned [Gary Zenkel's] email address," Bland wrote on Twitter. "Reasonable to ask whether it also had to do with his criticism of NBC's coverage of the games and whether they'd usually take the same step."
Unfortunately for NBC and Twitter, the ban has had the opposite effect since it sparked debate among journalists and Internet activists since the storyt broke on Monday. The hashtag #NBCFail, previously used to simply list the grievances against the network's faulty distribution of the Olympics, has now become something of a rallying cry for The Independent and its allies taking part in the backlash against Twitter.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray posted a response on the company's blog, saying "we want to apologize for the part of this story that we did mess up." While he assured readers that Twitter "does not actively monitor users' content" — requiring instead a formal complaint regarding any messages deemed abusive — the team working with NBC for Olympic coverage "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." The message concluded:
As I stated earlier, we do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are. This behavior 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. As of earlier today, the account has been unsuspended, and we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again.
While Twitter itself has responded the issue as graciously and quickly as possible, it is safe to expect that this issue will not go away lightly for many concerned with free speech and the internet. As Alexis Madrigal argued in a column criticizing Twitter in the Atlantic: "As an information conduit, Twitter has gotten too big to pretend that it can ban journalists who are critics of its business partners for borderline infractions." "In other words," he concluded, "You're a real part of what it means to have free speech now, Twitter, and you better start acting like it. You've scaled your servers, now it's time to scale your policies."