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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Twitter Proves It's Just Another Soulless Corporate Weasel

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 10:32 AM

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Twitter has officially entered the ranks of corporate weaseldom. This week, it suspended the account of a journalist who complained about NBC's Olympics coverage, and who tweeted the supposedly "private" e-mail account of an NBC executive. NBC, you see, is the "corporate partner" of Twitter for coverage of the games.


Which is not to say that the journalist, Guy Adams, the L.A. correspondent of the British paper The Independent, wasn't being kind of a jackass. His complaints about NBC's delayed broadcasts of Olympics events have some merit, though he expressed them with all the maturity of a spoiled 11-year-old. But if being a jackass and acting like a child were disallowed by Twitter, there would be no Twitter as we know it (which, come to think of it ...).

Twitter says the proximate reason for Adams's suspension was that he tweeted the corporate e-mail address of Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. The actual tweet read: "The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven't started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think! Email: Gary.zenkel@nbcuni.com."

That came after a whole series of enraged tweets about the fact that NBC delays broadcast of many of the most popular Olympics events so that they might be broadcast during primetime, which is more lucrative for the network. The network does this even though it means viewers in the U.S. don't get to watch in real time if they want to, and that those viewers are in danger of having results spoiled by news accounts or social media updates. As if to make Adams' argument for him, NBC ran a promo Monday night for Tuesday's Today show interview with an American gold medal-winning swimmer. After the promo ran, it aired the event.

NBC could air events in real time, either on the web (where it does stream some events live -- generally the less popular ones) or on one of the cable channels it owns. It could do that and also air the most popular events in primetime, if it wanted to serve its viewers. Adams at one point tweeted: "If only someone had invented a technology to help us actually see this. Oh, wait ..."

It's impossible to know how much money NBC might have lost (or made) by doing that, but we know for sure that the network would have avoided the endless stream of bad publicity it's now enduring by pretending that we don't live in an always-on, real-time world.

In playing along with that pretense, Twitter undermines its own nature: by partnering up with a network that wants to pretend that it owns and controls all the information about the Olympics, and by acting as a censor. Spike Lee's account wasn't suspended when he infamously gave out the wrong address for George Zimmerman, (victimizing an innocent elderly couple in the process). But Adams' account was suspended when he gave out the corporate e-mail address of an NBC exec. Twitter's terms of service forbid giving out "private" and "personal" information. Adams' tweet at worst straddled the line of propriety; Lee's crashed right through that line, and yet he went unpunished.

Worst of all, perhaps, is the news that it was Twitter itself that alerted NBC to Adams' tweet. There can no longer be any doubt that Twitter has become a witless corporate media organ just like any other.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell

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