With the increasing problem of cyber-bullying, which is said to have reached an epidemic level on social networking websites and internet forums, one could be forgiven for thinking that these websites suffer from a worrying degree of lawlessness.

However, when The Independent newspaper journalist Guy Adams tweeted NBC Executive Gary Zenkel’s e-mail address and encouraged users to forward their complaints over the 2012 London Olympics coverage to him, he was confronted with a suspended account the next day.

It has since been resolved, but the suspension was still a somewhat frightening indication of where powerful social media sites like theses priorities lie.

The Incident

Guy Adams used his account to posts various tweets about NBC’s coverage of this year’s Olympics in London. Particularly targeting them not showing the opening ceremonies, instead deciding to delay it for a number of hours.

When he tried to log back in the next day, he discovered his account had been suspended. The reason Twitter gave for the suspension, was that posting a private e-mail address on a public forum like theirs, constituted a violation of privacy rights. Which NBC themselves had complained to Twitter about.

This could be considered a fair measure if it weren’t for the fact that many celebrities have done the exact same thing and haven’t suffered any repercussions on that level. Or even warnings, for that matter.

The Aftermath

Many used the event to infer that Twitter had taken particular exception to Adams’ comments because of corporate ties to NBC over the London Olympics. This was seen as more probable when it was found that Twitter themselves encouraged NBC to complain.

The fact that NBC complained was the defence they used when asked about the hypocrisy of the move, when journalists cited other occasions when personal details (sometimes accompanied by serious threats), were posted with no action taken by Twitter.

Adams’ argued that the e-mail address was public information: easily available to anyone doing a Google search for Zenkel’s e-mail address. A point, which if true, rendered NBC’s complaint groundless. However some investigation into the matter showed that Gary Zenkel’s corporate e-mail address was only posted on LinkedIn and somewhat difficult to find for anyone without journalistic acumen.

Policies Moving Forward

The ensuing controversy prompted Twitter to finally re-instate Guy Adams’ account. Although this was only done once NBC had withdrawn their complaint, following the bad press. Although Twitter didn’t go as far as to apologise, they did admit they shouldn’t have been as involved in the process.

It can be a difficult issue for both sides to justify. On one side you have a journalist who is inciting harassment of a corporate executive for a company’s choice of coverage, but on the other you have social media website sacrificing their objectivity by seemingly giving preferential treatment to a large corporation over a common individual who actually gave the website its power.

To see the true direction Twitter is travelling, in terms of its privacy policy, we will have to see how they handle issues such as this moving forward.