I know a guy on Twitter who goes by foulbastard. He is notorious for off-the-wall messages, but seems to me to fall into the category of “person pushing free speech for creative and artistic ends.” Recently, his account ran into trouble, and he found himself unable to use Twitter. I asked him for his story, and he gives it in just a bit. WHY am I sharing this? Because I think there are some points about how communities deal with people who use the tools in ways different than the “norm,” and because it was interesting to hear how Obvious’s Biz Stone (one of the guys behind Twitter) responded.
The following is written by Foul Bastard, with a response written after FB’s piece by Biz Stone. Now, Foul Bastard:
On most days I would normally be found tossing obnoxiously entertaining tweets around Twitter as @FoulBastard but since Monday night Foul Bastard has been silent. Twitter suspended my accounts without notice. The catalyst for these suspensions seems to be my new website http://www.breastsoftwitter.com. The Breasts of Twitter is a blog that contains a collage of Twitter-user submitted breast photos. Originally it was suggested as a joke, but when I opened my email one day and found the first submission I knew destiny was calling. That’s when I started a Twitter account called @TheBreasts (which I like because it sounds absurd) and began following people to promote my project. I collected the photos by asking all of my female followers to contribute. Most of them responded in a friendly and playful manner, several decided to participate; some apparently got upset and blocked me. The collage was posted Monday, March 3rd at 9am and the site received 640 visits that day.
Monday night I logged into @TheBreasts on Twitter, clicked update, and my tweet disappeared into the ether. Having already been suspended once before I was familiar with this behavior. Twitter has an atrocious disciplinary system. When they suspend an account they lock it so that your updates do not appear in any timeline but everything appears functional. They give you no warning that your account has been disabled. This is confusing since Twitter is not known for its technical stability. The first time I was suspended I spent a day thinking that Twitter was just not working right, again.
Now I know better, and I am not accepting this as a harmless lack of protocol. What Twitter did to me was wrong. They suspended both of my accounts and they have not replied to my support requests or the post I put on GetSatisfaction.com. I have no way of knowing why they did this.
Some people have speculated that Twitter banned me because I used their name in my http://www.breastsoftwitter.com website. Maybe, but I think if that were the case and they wanted me to stop they would have gotten in touch with me directly instead of creating a monster. They do have my contact information after all.
The thing I love about Twitter is the freedom it gives you to express yourself any way you see fit. People are free to follow and unfollow you at will; there is no pressure. In fact, I’ve had people unfollow me and then follow back with a different “non-business” account the next day. It’s democracy the way democracy was meant to be. But when people are being silenced because ofâ€¦well, I don’t know why; Twitter won’t tell me, democracy fails and creativity dies.
As a member of the Twitter community I make an effort to have interesting and unique content. I don’t mind when people unfollow me, despite my occasional rants to the contrary. Of course I believe that if you don’t follow me you’re not cool. If you don’t feel that way too then maybe you don’t believe in your message much. But I never take personal offense when a follower leaves. What offends me is that Twitter has locked my accounts and will not communicate with me at all. I generate content that draws readers to their website. I create content that is broadcast across a global network, and that content directly benefits them, I am a contributor and a customer. It doesn’t matter that Twitter is a free service, it’s a business and their practices are appallingly unprofessional.
The response from my followers has been astounding. Now operating as @FowlBastard I have recovered a large percentage of my follower base and they have been demanding that Twitter unfreeze my accounts. Further, they have created a support avatar with a black ribbon and a large red FB which is being sported all across the Twitterverse. I was elated to see this kind of support. I honestly didn’t know it was there. When it was announced that @Roadhacker had created @FoulBastardArmy and it grew to more than 130 followers I realized just how massive the power of community can be.
That’s why I’ll stick with Twitter and work through this like a bad marriage. I just want them to recognize that there is a problem with their communication and fix it. Had they done that in the first place this whole mess would have been avoided.
I sent this post to Biz Stone, who works for the company who makes Twitter, Obvious. Biz responded quickly with the following:
Twitter does not censure content. Freezing the @foulbastard account was a case of mistaken abuse which we have since corrected.
Because of the opt-in nature of following another person on Twitter we don’t have a spam problem but we do get some folks who try to abuse the system for some reason or another. When enough people block an account on Twitter that usually indicates some sort of attempted abuseâ€”this is how the Twitter community lets us know when something is not quite right.
In the case of @foulbastard, enough people had blocked the account that it raised some red flags and we froze the account. When we learned that this was not a case of abuse, we replaced service. We plan to refine our internal tools so we can more accurately maintain a quality service without stepping on any toesâ€”this is a good learning experience for us.
There are a few points of interest here. One is that Twitter is self-policing. You can’t GET spam if every user has the option to unfollow and/or block a user. Beyond that, the community has mechanisms (lots of people blocking) to signal a perceived misuse of an account. So, in ways, the system protects its own.
In the case of Foul Bastard, this is someone who has a different use of Twitter than most folks, but I don’t see it as particularly malicious or outrageous. Might not be my choice, but if I consider FB to be an artist, then this is his “Jackson Pollock peeing” type of art. Should this be banned? (From Biz’s response, it wasn’t the intent, but I’m asking in the larger sense).
What’s your take on this whole thing? Where are the boundaries? How do the edge players use a service like Twitter?