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

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

  1. December 13, 2013 at 10:36 am

    According to twitter rules, if you’re ‘blocked’ too many times by other users, your account will b suspended. I found this out, suspended twice. So, if Monsanto hates what I say, just have a group of employees block the user and get them suspended. It’s a sure fire way to shut up activists.

  2. Frank Black
    December 10, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    It would be good to know why an account is suspended. I started two accounts. One focused on ordinary stuff and the other focussed more on the environment and politics. The latter account was suspended twice after approx 16 posts (nothing defamatory) and following approx 20 tweeters I admired.

    I have given up begging for the account to be reinstated. Stick to celebrity gossip or become a celebrity otherwise do not pass Go do not collect $200 and be prepared to rewrite the long short letter over and over.

    Perhaps what the world needs is an encrypted, peer to peer, free software Twitter replacement?

    • December 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

      This is very interesting, Frank. Would you mind giving me the name of the twitter account that you were using that was suspended? Do you have, or can you get, any screenshots of some of the tweets you had sent out just before being taken down so as to show that what you were up to wasn’t way outta line, illegal in some way, etc.?

      I think we need to make this an issue, and the better support and evidence we have, hopefully, the better our prospects of getting decent results will be. At least we can hold our breath hoping.

      Thanks for sharing this with me.

      cheers
      Dwayne

  3. Mr Simpleton
    December 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Read the links you provided, looked-up everything I didn’t grasp, or didn’t know about (I only have a BSc, and this jargon takes me for a loop. I always ignored it.l).

    I have so many questions.

    Double read Mr. Ben Klass (he’s very popular lately, and rightly so, and that led me to the CMR which is where I discovered some of your data comes from).

    I have the book you recommended on a hold. I get it around the 20th. No where to be found here in my prov’s library (too English). Glad my wife is likely your boss (or that is, Admin, she trains the Chairs)😉

    As I was explaining to the better half, I never would have read, spoke on your blog, or gone into any detail if “glitch” or “other” never occurred.

    And let’s be honest here, if it was a glitch someone from twitter would have said so by now.

    You got silenced. Someone tried to shut your pie-hole. Someone(s) tried to shut you up. Someone(s) dislikes you. Hate is there.

    And in my firm belief, regardless of anything else, it’s due to Zero the Hero.

    • December 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Hello Mr. Simpleton,

      Glad to hear that the readings I’ve turned you on to are of interest and I’ll be interested to hear what you think about Robert Babe’s Communication and the Transformation of Economics.

      As for Ben, ya, he’s one bright guy, in fact one of the brightest people I know doing both disinterested yet passionate work on telecoms policy. He’s definitely someone to keep your eyes on and follow to keep abreast of the issues at stake.

      Your reference to your better half has me intrigued and wondering who she might be. I’m lucky to have many good colleagues at Carleton U and so I guess she’s another one, even I don’t know who she is. I’d like to know so if you’d like to share, send me a private email: dwayne_winseck@carleton.ca

      As for the Twitter stuff, I’m still hopeful that they’ll come around and let me know, as you recommended in an earlier comment, at least whether what happened was the result of a glitch in the machine or someone trying to take me out. I’m still trying to keep an open mind about things, and wait to see how it all plays out.

      cheers
      DW

      • Mr Simpleton
        December 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm

        Hi,

        Got the book today.

        But there was a strange thing that happened, and, well, i’m not a paranoid person but it was too strange.

        When the better half found the book and put a hold on it (as I blabbed above), the other day she checked on it and it became “unholdable and unreservable”. Her hold on it was deleted.

        She went anyhow just in case and it was on a shelf.

        So she talks to the librarian because it was strange that she could reserve it, and then the record of her hold on the book got completely wiped. It never happened and it never existed. Then the book becomes “unholdable” and “unreservable”.

        The librarian checks it out, has no explanation and notices that the print out she got now states the book is “unrequestable”. Librarian says something isn’t right here. Something strange going on.

        So anyhow, I now have in my possession the book we put a “hold” on, which then became “unholdable”, then “unreservable” and now it is (per the print out) “unrequestable”.

        Is that bizarre or what?

        Mr. Winseck, I’m afraid to post on your blog. Next thing you know I may no longer have an identity or a health card because I took a title out of the library that you recommended.

        Have a safe and happy holiday!

      • December 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm

        Well how strange is that?

        My wife, K, often asks me why I don’t read fiction and encourages me to do so. To which I reply, why read fiction when the telecom-internet world is strange enough already.

        I hope you find Babe’s book a useful read. It may not be self evident as to why it is so, but, if I may, think long and hard just about the title and what he’s saying in chapters like Info: Policy Makers Beware. Brilliant. Absoutely, freakin brilliant I say.

        All the best to you too for the holidays.
        DW

  4. Mr. Simpleton
    December 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Hi,

    Hate to spam your site again, but does CPAC have the video online for when Mr. Kevin Crull spoke at this IIC conference? I also read this conference went on for 2 days. I only see half a day on CPAC.

    If not, does anyone have a write-up, notes, or a blog post on what went on that maybe I can be pointed to?

    Much appreciated, thanks again.

    I guess I should also thank “Glitch” or “Other” as well. Without the Streisand Effect I, and likely many others, never would have saw any of this.

    From where i’m sitting (hate to say it… but…), well worth a twitter suspension.

    I got to learn about the Herfindahl–Hirschman Index and other formula’s and jargon used in market concentration and competition (I’m got into the math of it all after watching the vid’s a few times, and your most excellent explanations of it all. You really did bring it down to earth and made it interesting to learn about).

    Weird how the universe tends to correct itself like this, eh?

    Cheers.

    • December 5, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Ya, it’s a strange world. I asked on Twitter today about day 2 of the IIC conference. Perhaps you and others might as well.

      As for the HHI, in it’s basics its pretty straight-forward and anybody with elementary math can figure it out — that is, if you have the baseline revenue data for the market you’re looking at and the firms in it. Getting that is the hardest part, but once you do it you simply get the market share of each firm by dividing each firm’s revenue by the bottom line of the market, then square the results and add ’em up.

      There’s more too it than that and as Church made clear, it’s not just the absolute threshold but the magnitude of change that takes place when two or more firms merge. Anyway, you can take a look at the paras in the following post to get some more details. The post also explains some recent changes in the thresholds which I’ve adopted:
      http://www.cmcrp.org/2013/10/22/media-and-internet-concentration-1984-2012/

      There’s some links there to a fuller discussion of methodology but beware I have not had time yet to update the old HHI thresholds to the new standards. Keep your eyes on the one’s noted in the above post. But also note that there is nothing ‘god-given’ in these standards and they can change over time, as they did in the US as of 2010, and different countries use different ones, while authorities in some countries hardly use them at all or idiosyncratically, like our Competition Bureau here in Canada.

      Well, happy reading and let me know if there’s anything that I might be able to help out with more when it comes to our favourite ‘metric’ when it comes to media concentration, the HHI!

      cheers
      DW

      • Mr Simpleton
        December 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

        TY for the reply and link.

        I was doing some searches last night, after I started to get into it, and came across a Carleton paper put out to Industry Canada in 2007 stating the HHI for the three was 3400. I’m not sure what it is now though. But that’s not all that is as play here, as we know.

        I’ll read your link first to get a general grasp of it all, then get into the Church report, something I never would have read prior to this incident.

        TY.

      • December 5, 2013 at 10:27 pm

        Wireless HHI in 2012, according to our research, was 2873 across Canada as a whole, but higher in each of the regions and provinces, except Quebec. See Table 1 in the link I indicated in last reply (Media and Internet Concentration In Canada) and Table 1 in the Media and Internet Concentration in French Language Network Media Economy. http://www.cmcrp.org/2013/10/29/growth-and-concentration-in-the-french-language-network-media-economy-in-canada-1984-2012/.

        Best stuff on this for general readers, I believe, is still Noam’s Media Ownership and Concentration in America, or chapter length versions of it.

        Anyway, no need to get bogged down in the details. I think it’s enough that we all equip ourselves with rudimentary knowledge of HHI, CR etc. so we are not bamboozled by economogicians’ bafflegab (not that all are prone to such things, just the mercenary ones among them, and stoked with illusions that economics really is the ‘imperial science’ (Stigler).

        Now that we’re on to it, one of my all time fav books is Robert E Babe (UWO) Communication and the Transformation of Economics, wherein Babe, an economist by training, argues that if economists really took communication and information seriously it would lead to an internal crisis of validity and an external crisis of legitimacy leading to a transformation of economics into the political economy of communication. Ya, that’s a lot to wrap your head around, but I love it. Certainly elevates our humble field into a more respectable place in the academy.

        cheers
        DW

  5. Mr Simpleton
    December 4, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Hi again,

    This is off topic a bit from your open letter to twitter, but maybe it does lend credence to what you stated that this could be an attack on your conference appearance and rebuttal of the Church report.

    I found the time to look at the CPAC coverage you linked to on twitter earlier. I watched both. I’ll be honest here and state that a good chunk of it was above my comprehension level when it came to the economics of it. However, it did appear to me that Mr. Nowak got broadsided right from the start with the 2 slide maximum he was told to have.

    In other words, the people who organized this more or less just told him to show his face as a token gesture, we don’t really care what you have to say or show. WOW!

    Then before he even had a chance to speak, he was slagged by Mr. Ghose a little bit, who had oodles of slides to try and back up what he was saying, while Mr. Nowak was told he had a maximum of two.

    I felt bad watching this, but, man, he made a great recovery right from the start. He didn’t need no pictures to be make his points on contracts, mobile sales, prices, and population density.

    On another note, Mr. Ghose was fun to watch and listen to. As a speaker he truly was entertaining, and I mean that in a good way. I liked him. I won’t touch on where he stated, “Canadian don’t want new entrants”, as he chuckled, though.

    Mr. Church I don’t have much to say, I almost snoozed. That is, till he bunched an undergarment after you spoke and yelled out “BS”, he was “broadsided”, and everything you had to say is “nonsense”.

    Oh yeah, there was tension. It was built up. Now that is what I call entertainment! I never expected that from someone who looked so mild and meek. There was some major soilage (lack of a better word) there.

    Your talk was great. You captured the audience. They didn’t snooze. You used plain language. You were the highlight of that IIC conference for sure. And you riviled Mr. Ghose in terms of entertainment value (you two were tops in that, and I mean that in a good way).

    So, yeah, my eyes are open now to why this could have led to a potential “spam complaint” to twitter. heh. The chair he sat on will never be the same again.

    Twitter can just send you and easy one word notice. “Glitch” or “Other”. There are still two possibilities if it’s “other” (in my opinion), and they wouldn’t be ratting anyone out since you are so well loved.
    —-

    Off topic:

    Mr Masse (ex Industry Canada politician?) was all for abolishing the CRTC.

    While listening to his talk the one thing that kept popping in my mind was, “well if Canada did what you stated, Videotron never would have gotten it’s feet off the ground in wireless”. Does he not realize that when Videotron got spectrum, with promises of tower sharing, the very first thing Bell Canada did was deny Videotron tower sharing?

    The very first thing that went on was months of regulatory red tape preventing their launch into wireless. What if there was no CRTC to enforce that industry Canada condition? Would it have instead gone to court and be tied up there for 3 years?

    I’m simple, so that was the first thing that popped into my mind.

    TL;DR:
    Oh yeah, I see where you are coming from. TY for the link to CPAC.

    And thanks again for your work. It opened my eyes a bit.

    • December 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Well Mr Simpleton, like you, I try to take challenging ideas and claims and wrestle ’em down to earth so that we might understand things, and make good choices on that basis. Doesn’t seem like a tall order, but when you watch how the wireless wars unfolded this summer, and the deliberate sowing of confusion and muddying of the waters, it certainly makes you wonder.

      Happy to have done my bit to lift the veil on what I think I, you and others are seeing as at least some of the central issues at stake.

      cheers, and thanks for the kind words and engagement. It is much appreciated.
      DW

    • Mr Simpleton
      December 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      oh geez. I made a major typo.

      Up above I said, “you reviled Mr. Ghose”.

      I meant to say, “you rivaled Mr. Ghose”.
      (I truly meant equaled)

      My apologies to Mr. Winseck and Mr. Ghose. No one reviled anyone.

      What a bad typo to make.

  6. December 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    It’s not just the big telecom companies that have issues with people speaking out. I find the support you got from “Canada’s premier internet rights and freedom group, Open Media”. They were no where to be found when my posts were disappearing on DSLR re; Voltage vs Teksavvy. More to come.

    • December 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Jason,
      My thought is the Open Media is on the right side of good a lot more often than not. They can’t pick up the cudgel on every issue and must pick and choose carefully the issues they do lean in on in light of available resources and where the issues coming from.
      DW

      • December 3, 2013 at 5:49 pm

        “They can’t pick up the cudgel on every issue and must pick and choose carefully the issues they do lean in on in light of available resources and where the issues coming from.”

        I agree with that statement, as long as you don’t criticize their main funding source you’re good to go. Wondering if twitter had a partnership with the big teleco’s the shoe would be on the other foot here.

      • December 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm

        OM was there in the beginning with TSI, but when confronting the CEO on rights issues relating to privacy in the summer, they tuck tailed and ran.

  7. Mr Simpleton
    December 3, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I’ve been waiting a week to see how this all came to be.

    My line of thought on all this was:
    -I know there was a tiff a while back between you and two others (they can stay nameless).
    -Just before your account got suspended you linked to a HoFo article called something along the lines of “Heroes and Zeros”.
    -And you were gone.

    I was leaning more towards this. I still am. But, what do I know. I’m just a simpleton.

    So I contacted a bunch of people to point them to your suspended account and the link I got before it went *poof*. Why I did this is because it reminded me of when my friend Jon Newton was sued by Wayne Crookes for simply having a link (I’m sure you know of that SCC case).

    The similarity was there, to me. But again, what do I know, i’m just an old simpleton. The obvious was just slapping me in the face.

    I’d be more astonished though to find out it was due to a whole bunch of industry shills (consultants?) due to the paper you wrote and conference you partook in. Or maybe not. Hard to say.

    I don’t know why twitter would remain silent though. Is it really that easy to get someones account suspended? I may have to try and test this.

    Cheers, and keep up the great work.

    • December 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Dear Mr Simpleton,

      Yes, the world works in mysterious ways and I think you’ve put your fingers on some important points. Of course, if my Twitter account suspension is more than a glitch in the matrix, I would love to find out who the spineless n’er do wells are that were behind it.

      Perhaps this will all come out in the wash? At least I hope it will, and even more, I hope that Twitter finds it fit to offer some comment on this and the broader issues raised.

      cheers
      DW

  1. December 3, 2013 at 10:42 am

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