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Today's Top News
Twitter Backs Down At Last - But Why Did I Get Banned?
In the green room at CNN's Los Angeles studio last night, a producer asked for my reaction to the still-breaking news that Twitter had decided, in their words, to "un-suspend" my account.
"I feel," I replied, "like Nelson Mandela walking through the streets of Cape Town, circa 1990." The producer looked at me, aghast. "Whatever you do," she commanded, "do not go and say that when we put you on air."
Joking aside, the situation neatly summed up the absurdity of a course of events which allowed a snarky, 140-character-or-less piece of prose, which ought to have sunk without trace, become the subject of a viral news story which is still being debated across the international media landscape. At about 6pm, London time, shortly before that green-room conversation, I had received an email from "Twitter support," announcing that I was no longer verboten in Twitter-land.
"Your account was suspended because a complaint was filed stating that you had violated our terms of service," it read. "We have just received an updated notice from the complainant retracting the original request. Therefore, your account has been unsuspended, and no further action is required from you at this time."
The email address of Gary Zenkel, the NBC executive at the heart of this affair, was posted on a blog established in 2011 by a group urging supporters to "boycott NBC"/. I found it there, prior to sending out Friday's offending tweet, in roughly 30 seconds via Google. Did Twitter's "trust and safety" department simply forget about its own rules when dealing with the complaint that led to my suspension? Or did it wilfully ignore them? We don't yet know.
There are wider issues at play. The company has yet to properly address growing suspicions that its decision to suspend my account was motivated by a business relationship with NBC. The firms are running a cross-promotion throughout the Olympics. Was that why it chose to ignore its own rules?
Yesterday, the website, which is supposedly dedicated to the democratic flow of conversation, did admit it had actually contacted its corporate partner urging it to complain so that my account could be shut down in the first place. A mea culpa on its blog said last night: "We want to apologise for the part of this story we did mess up. 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... Our trust and safety team did not know that part of the story and acted on the report as they would any other. We do not proactively report or remove content on behalf of other users no matter who they are.
"This behaviour 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... we will actively work to ensure this does not happen again."