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Contentions

Did Twitter Alert NBC to Critical Tweets?

The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent Guy Adams — an outspoken critic of NBC’s Olympic coverage — is claiming he was unfairly censored after he had his Twitter account shut down for tweeting an NBC executive’s corporate email address. The tweet allegedly violated Twitter’s rules, and Adams was suspended after NBC filed an official complaint.

But NBC’s communication shop is now telling the Telegraph that Twitter actually contacted NBC about Adams’ tweet, and guided them through the complaint process.

Why would this matter? Because Twitter and NBC inked a partnership over Olympic coverage that began just last week. And it has some wondering whether that relationship led Twitter to shut down Adams’ criticism of their Olympic coverage:

One of the tweets urged his followers to send their views to Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics. Adams subsequently published Zenkel’s corporate email address and a complaint was filed by NBC.

But in an email to the Daily Telegraph, Christopher McCloskey, NBC Sport’s vice-president of communications, said Twitter had actually contacted the network’s social media department to alert them to Adams’ tweets.

Some of are framing this as a free speech issue, but it’s really not. Twitter is run by a private company and has the right to suspend users from its platform. Adams, a newspaper correspondent, obviously has other outlets he can use to exercise his speech rights.

Of course, Twitter would also damage its own reputation if it decided not to reinstate Adams. Which is probably the most confusing part of this whole story. Guy Adams isn’t exactly a household name, and while his criticism of the Olympic coverage may have been an annoyance for NBC and Twitter, 99 percent of their audience probably never heard any of it. Would Twitter really risk its public image by shutting him down without cause? Or was this an honest concern about rules violations?

The company has said in the past that it “strive[s] not to remove tweets on the basis of their content.” Strives is the key word. Most Twitter users would probably be uneasy with the idea of Twitter targeting critics of its business interests, if it turns out that was what happened here. Either way, this is a reminder of what Twitter is and what it isn’t. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Twitter isn’t just a giant, unbridled chat room full of everyone you know; it’s a private company-run community with limits, and the rules may not always be enforced evenly across the board.