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Glitch in the Matrix or Twitter Take-Down?: An Open Letter to Twitter

Dear Kirstine Stewart (Twitter Ppl),

Hello. My name is Dr. Dwayne Winseck, and I’m a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. 

Two weekends ago I had an unpleasant experience — and a suspect one of that – in which my Twitter account was temporarily suspended (#14558974 Twitter Support: update on “CDN University Prof Wonders Why Account Suspended”).

Luckily, through the intermediary of well-known Canadian Internet lawyer Michael Geist my ‘ticket” was brought to the attention of someone who was, until very recently, very high up at Twitter. That person is also someone I admire greatly. Because she/he helped me out so much I’d rather not bring any more trouble to their doorstep, so I shall leave them nameless. Nameless moved my ticket up the ladder within your organization, fast, and by late Sunday afternoon my account was restored.   

For all this, I am very thankful. And more to the point, it confirmed my belief that, when faced with tough situations — much tougher than mine — Twitter bends over backwards to do the right thing. This is a point that I’ve made in the past on my blog, notably in a post called, yes, US Subpeona: Twitter Does the Right Thing and several other posts on what I call the Twitter – Wikileaks cases (see herehere andhere).

I’ve also written on this topic for my column at the Globe and Mail, a column that I still hold but no longer use because of frustrations with the abysmal coverage the paper gives to the telecom and media business here in Canada, at least from where I sit. I wrote a column for the Globe and Mail after interviewing Icelandic MP, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and target of the US Department of Justice’s attempt to have Twitter disclose her and two others’ (Ron Gongrijp and Jacob Applebaum) account information in relation to the DoJ’s ongoing investigation of Wikileaks (see here).  

Of course, my skirmishes with the big three Cellcos — Rogers, Bell and Telus – in Canada, around which all of this stuff revolves (see below), pales in significance with the Twitter — Wikileaks case. The principle, however, that Twitter stands up for, and at the very least discloses the machinations behind the scenes that implicates its users, is similar.

It is possible, as my colleague and Associate Director at the School of Journalism and Communication, Joshua Greenberg, noted on Twitter the night my account was taken down, that all of this is due to a “Glitch in the Matrix”. However, as he also noted, it could be “punishment for industry criticism”.

Josh Greenberg ‏@josh_greenberg 24 Novhttps://twitter.com/josh_greenberg/status/404695068826943488

Appears colleague @mediamorphis has had his @twitter acct arbitrarily suspended. Glitch in the Matrix or punishment for industry criticism?

It is also possible that I have crossed a line. There is no doubt that some of what I have said has been heated, and pointed, albeit I believe with toes standing close to or even on the line but not over it. Even good friends have counseled caution in this regard, but it would be helpful to know on which side of the line I stand, using Twitter’s terms of service as our guide (see Twitter Rules).

There are likely other possibilities that I haven’t contemplated, and I am keeping an open mind. However, as I stated at the outset, while I am very happy that my account was restored quickly, there are several important questions that still hang in the air, such as:

  1. Was the temporary suspension a ‘glitch in the machine’, or payback instigated by disgruntled targets of my criticism who took advantage of Twitter’s “report spam” function?
  2. Either way, what did Twitter find when it investigated my account and made the decision to restore it, and could you let me know the results of your investigation?
  3. What steps is Twitter taking to ensure that its ‘report spam’ and other features cannot be abused to silence one’s adversaries, or at the very least that such potentials for abuse are being minimized?

I believe these are important questions and I hope you can find the time to address them.

They are important not just to me but to all Twitter users who use your service as a valuable medium of public and, yes, political discourse. That this is so can be gathered, for example, from a post at specialized online forum that deals with mobile wireless issues, Howardforums: The Curious Case of the Suspended Twitter Account. Canada’s premier internet rights and freedom group, Open Media, reposted a modified version of that account on its website: Carleton Professsor Criticizes Canadian Telecom Industry, Gets Twitter Account Suspended.

The issues involved are also important because, sadly, my case is not an anomaly. There are, in fact, several instances in Canada – and likely elsewhere in the world where you are active – where people who are politically active — and reasonably and responsibly so — have found themselves in similar situations.

Critically, not everybody is as fortunate as I am to have immensely supportive colleagues, friends and Twitter followers, to say nothing of high-powered connections of the likes of Michael Geist, and through him, to the very top of the chain at Twitter, to set things aright in quick order. For all involved, we need to know, what is Twitter doing to ensure that it continues to do the right thing?

I have tried repeatedly to directly tweet Kirstine on this matter, as have several others, but with no reply as of yet. After many repeated attempts I thought I would spell it out here in full.

Lastly, that this is a matter of serious public discussion is underscored by the fact that the original report that I authored, and which opened up the windy path to these events, was delivered at one of the Canadian telecom industry’s premier annual conferences, the International Institute of Communication, held at the Ottawa Convention Centre, November 17-18, 2013. A link to the press release put out by Carleton University announcing the original report, Mobile Wireless in Canada: Recognizing the Problems and Approaching Solutions, can be found here, with links embedded to the original report itself.

Of course, I was fully aware that the report would touch a nerve, but what has followed, not just in the ‘mysterious case of the suspended Twitter account’, but across a wide range of matters too long to list, has been wholly unexpected.

As Mark Twain once said, I set out to write you a short letter but I did not have the time so I wrote you a long one instead.

I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at dwayne_winseck@carleton.ca, via Twitter @mediamorphis or the old-fashioned way by landline to my office: 613 520-2600 x. 7525.

Sincerely,
Dwayne Winseck, Ph.D.

Professor, School of Journalism and Communication,

Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

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