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NBC Asks Twitter to Censor Journalist for Criticizing Them; Twitter Complies

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"If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy."

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NBC's coverage of the Olympics has, put charitably, been rather comparable to Michael Phelps' performance: underwhelming and overhyped. To be sure, an event as big as the Olympics is sure to produce a few logistical hurdles, but the trouble for NBC transcends logistical problems, in that their missteps covering the event seem to stem more from a crass desire for money than from honest mistakes. The Twitter hashtag #NBCFail has been slowly growing in strength ever since the opening ceremony was covered, and its pages and pages of tweets come from both sides of the Atlantic.

And until recently, one of NBC's most vociferous critics on that hashtag was one Guy Adams, a Los Angeles-based reporter for the UK Independent, who already proved his anti-NBC bona fides by writing one of the most scathing stories about the network presently in circulation. From that article:

At the centre of controversy was NBC’s attempt to leverage maximum revenue from the Games, for which they paid almost a billion dollars, by foregoing live coverage of high-profile events. Instead, it intends to footage on time-delay during evening prime time, when brands will pay a premium to advertise.[...]

Even when they do find live sport, NBC viewers must suffer some of the most invasive advertising in the history of television: roughly 20 minutes during each hour is taken up by commercial breaks.

Critics have also rounded on the quality of NBC’s commentary, which has been riddled with basic factual errors. They ranged from a cycling host’s allegation that the Surrey countryside is full of “chateaus” to a map on NBC’s website which describes Australia as “located in central Europe, bordered to the north by Germany and the Czech Republic, [and] to the west by Switzerland”.

Strong stuff. But it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of Adams' scathing tweets savaging NBC's coverage. For a quick sample, via Twitchy:

Vicious stuff. One can imagine NBC wishes Twitter would censor this man for being so harsh about their coverage.

...Wait, they did?

Yes, that's right. Apparently NBC was carefully watching Guy Adams' Twitter account, looking for a reason to ask that it be suspended. Petty, but not illegal. And as it turns out, they got their excuse when they found this Tweet by Adams last Friday:

Posting an NBC exec's email address is apparently not kosher, so Twitter complied with NBC's request, under the theory that the Tweet listed a "private" email address and was thus a violation of Twitter's terms of service.

The problem? It's not a private email address at all. It's publicly listed. A simple google search could find it. So NBC's complaint essentially falls apart. Adams explained this in his own post explaining the ban:

Since I’m still trying to get to bottom of the hows and whys of my suspension, which conceivably raises various ethical issues relevant to journalism in the online era, it seems premature to comment further. Except, perhaps to say that I do not wish Mr Zenkel any harm, and to share a transcript of my most recent email to Rachel Bremer, Twitter’s head of European PR.

“I’m of course happy to abide by Twitter’s rules, now and forever,” it reads. “But I don’t see how I broke them in this case: I didn’t publish a private email address. Just a corporate one, which is widely available to anyone with access to Google, and is identical [in form] to one that all of the tens of thousands of NBC Universal employees share. It’s no more “private” than the address I’m emailing you from right now. Either way, [it's] quite worrying that NBC, whose parent company are an Olympic sponsor, are apparently trying (and, in this case, succeeding) in shutting down the Twitter accounts of journalists who are critical of their Olympic coverage.”

The tech web site Mashable has also weighed in on Adams' side, citing an actual section of Twitter's terms of service (emphasis theirs):

Posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter Rules.

Some examples of private and confidential information are: credit card information, social security or other national identity numbers, addresses or locations that are considered and treated as private, non-public, personal phone numbers, non-public, personal email addresses.

Keep in mind that although you may consider certain information to be private, not all postings of such information may be a violation of this policy. If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy.

Mashable has sent information to Twitter demonstrating that the NBC executive in question had his email displayed elsewhere on the internet prior to this, and this may well get Adams' account reinstated. However, in NBC's case, the damage is done.

And considering this is the same company that employs the people on MSNBC, is anyone really surprised?

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