Reporter Guy Adams has been in the news this week not for his stellar Olympic coverage, but because his Twitter account was suspended after Twitter alerted NBC that Adams was tweeting negative comments about NBC's coverage of the Olympics, and the corporate email address of the president of NBC Olympics.
As regular, ordinary people will confirm, there appears to be no other time where Twitter has actually initiated an alert to a user when behavior in violation of Twitter's terms of service occurs. In fact, if a day goes by where someone isn't harassed, it's unusual. But in this case, Mr. Adams didn't actually appear to violate those terms, because the information he tweeted was available via a simple Google search, as he explains in the video above.
Mr. Adams' account was reinstated at NBC's request. You can read their "apology" here, where they apologize for leaving the impression they monitor accounts for content violation. Of course they don't do that. They only monitor corporate accounts to be sure the brand is protected. The whole incident leaves a lingering bitter taste behind, especially for those of us who tweet about politics and find ourselves on the receiving end of an elaborate and relentless smear campaign by right-wing True Believers who have too much time and very few ethical constraints.
StopRush and Smear Merchants
[Note: I will not be linking to any of the ongoing smear effort accounts. You can read more about their specific efforts here.]
For all of the attention Twitter gave to NBC, they have no such concerns about ordinary people who dare to stand up to media giants like Rush Limbaugh. In fact, they seem to have no problem with smear merchants posting all sorts of personal information on them.
For nearly six months, a small group of dedicated volunteers have been exercising their First Amendment rights on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to bring advertisers' attention to Rush Limbaugh's hateful rhetoric. They ask one simple question: Do you want your brand associated with this?
This is not, by any stretch, an attempt to suppress Limbaugh's right to speak. He can speak as much as he wants, and he can say whatever he wants. But brands should have the right to decide whether they want to amplify it, and consumers have a right to choose whether to support brands based upon where they place their advertising dollars. To date, 614 national and local sponsors have chosen not to advertise during the time that Rush Limbaugh's show is aired. Not bad for a group of volunteers who actually listen to local broadcasts of Limbaugh's show to identify sponsors and reach out to them.
On May 7th, Cumulus Media, a carrier of Rush Limbaugh's shows, announced millions in losses for the first and second quarters which could be directly attributed to lost ad revenue after his Sandra Fluke rants. They expressed optimism, however, that they expected things to be back to normal in June.
One week later, some members of the private Google group used to coordinate and communicate efforts with regard to the StopRush.net effort had their email accounts hacked. In addition, one member stepped up and claimed he was a wealthy Texas businessman with monetary resources to bolster the movement and resources.
Much more transpired after that, but all of that activity was directed toward the goal of using people's personal information to smear individuals who were connected with the effort, if only on the edge of it. One of those members was me. Another one was Krystal Ball, MSNBC commentator. Both of us were connected to the extent that we were members of a mailing list, supportive of the effort, and would mention it from time to time on Twitter and blogs.
After the accounts were hacked, it also became clear that the person representing himself as a "benefactor" was really there to collect information, distort it, and use it to smear various members of the effort. The pivotal part of the smear was to publish personal information. For over a month, they have been spamming twitter with my full name, my maiden name, and links to blog posts with my home address and phone number (disconnected now). They either commissioned or were responsible for the publication of every address I have had -- personal and professional -- for the past 20 years along with the full names of family members, including my children on Pastebin.com. That particular publication has been removed at my request. While all of my kids are adults, they are not involved in any way with the Stop Rush effort or my online activities, nor is my spouse, nor is his family. They published email from a private email list. And they continue to try to Google-bomb people associated with the effort with terms intended to point to us as targets.
They don't care who they wrap in their hateful net. They don't care that they might actually destroy careers. All that matters to them is that they save Rush Limbaugh from a small group of determined people who spend their own time and money to reach out and ask advertisers if they really want to support his hate speech. For Rush, millions are at stake. For volunteers, they have nothing at stake but their determination to put an end to the relentless hatred Rush Limbaugh spews into the airwaves and his listeners' collective consciousness.
They have published nothing controversial about any of us, unless you think publishing people's personal information, including their home address and phone number, names of their children and non-immediate family members, and other information most of us keep private is controversial. Coupling that with the promise to "take [us] down" and the attendant eliminationist rhetoric just compounds the threat.
Because they are using Twitter and their 25,000 bought followers and sock puppets to spread their poison, I filed a complaint with Twitter with links and the claim that they were posting personal information in violation of Twitter's terms of service.
I was not alone. Others also complained, supplying links and evidence of their astroturf effort to save their hero Rush Limbaugh.
Twitter suspended their main account on July 23rd, presumably in response to the complaints. On July 27th, it was reinstated after I received this response:
Right wing white supremacist bad boy Brooks Bayne is the tip of the smear, though that information didn't emerge until after much of the damage had been done. Bayne and his sock puppets' constant promise to "take radical leftist [insert name] down" were at the heart of our complaints. He always tweeted his eliminationist promise to "take down" radical leftists" in tandem with the link to our personal information and full names. Yeah, I have some problems with a guy who is roundly cheered by StormFront members posting my full name, address and phone number online. I do view it as a threat. Wouldn't you?
We have investigated the reported account and have found that it’s not in violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) at this time. We have a policy against violent threats, but the content of this account lacks the specificity to meet the criteria of an actionable threat.
Hey Brooks and Twitter, I see what you did there
As Guy Adams noted in his interview, if you can find it on the Internet, you get to publish it on Twitter without violating their content guidelines. This is why he got reinstated. Brooks and his buddy got around this restriction by posting that information as a blog post and then spamming Twitter with that link and real names.
See how that works? I can come here and publish Brooks Bayne's full name and then link to it on Twitter while mentioning that full name on Twitter, and I won't violate the terms of service. Never mind that they published that post solely for the purpose of publishing people's personal information so they could then link to it on Twitter and echo it out to everyone via various sock puppet accounts. Never mind that. They have technically not violated those privacy terms.
Except really, they have. Because they're using Twitter as the means by which they spread the information and attention. For Twitter to pretend this is acceptable behavior is ridiculous.
Here's another section of Twitter's content rules:
Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.
This is how they get around the fact that publishing personal information along with the promise to "take down radical leftists" (laughable to those of you who think I'm not left enough). It's not direct or specific, therefore it stands.
Finally, there is this definition of spamming in their content rules:
If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account;
There is documented evidence that this is happening, that Brooks and his buddy create accounts for the sole purpose of amplifying their message. They and their accounts have been reported for this, which causes great squealing about a "Twitter Gulag" where conservatives are sent for exercising free speech rights. I would suggest they take up that complaint with Twitter, except I suspect they've already received a group exemption. Free speech does not include repetitive posting of your opponents' personal information, unless you are Brooks Bayne, evidently. Guy Adams didn't receive the same consideration, and it took NBC to get his account reinstated.
Twitter's Decision: Corporations Über Alles
Given that Twitter only chose to restore a credentialed journalist's account after NBC requested it, despite the fact that he didn't actually violate their terms of service, and given that Twitter has chosen to continue to allow Rush Limbaugh allies to continue to oppose the effort of a few uncompensated volunteers via personal attacks, smears, and publication of personal information, I can only conclude that Twitter has chosen the interests of corporate partners over their users, which leaves them vulnerable to community disintegration, one of the contributors to Digg's demise. Make no mistake: When Digg chose to ignore their users, they signed their own death warrant. Now they're on life support and relaunched with the hope of revival without ads, more content, and no on-site discussion. Good luck with that.
So it may be with Twitter. As they choose corporate influence over those who are the influencers, they may discover the influencers' flight to other places where they simply use Twitter as a pipe to drop content, saving community action for other places. When they do that, they'll lose the datapoints and the swarms around community interest, which will make it a far less valuable corporate asset.
This seems to be what goes unnoticed: Social networks depend on social interaction. People do that, not PR firms or corporate presence. Corporations are intensely interested in knowing what points of interest exist in the universe of social interaction. If the networks can't find a way to balance user experience with corporate needs, they're placed squarely in the path of obsolescence.
As for me, their choice of Rush Limbaugh's corporate interests over the greater community good is pretty clear. I'm looking at alternatives now, because as much as I enjoy being able to use that service to send my own message out, I'm not interested in doing it at the expense of my family's privacy and the destruction of my good name at the hands of eliminationist white supremacists like Brooks Bayne. If Twitter won't act, I will have to make a choice about how I manage social interaction online and what my next steps are.
There is no democracy online, and there may be no democracy offline if we don't stop the efforts at voter suppression and election cheating. But one thing we all should know: Profits trump everything else.