Ariel Waldman vs. Twitter: A story so dirty, I’m taking a shower…

Ariel Waldman » Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service

UPDATE: Now verified, as seen on Twitter’s blog.

I’ve been following Ariel Waldman’s twitter as I would with others I respect in the social media circle. Since Thursday however, her online plea against twitter has made me cast doubts about her.

Her situation involves “harassing user accounts” that would typically be banned by other web services upon request (e.g. Flickr), just not so in the case of Twitter. With that, she’s thrown everything but the kitchen sink, from discrepancies with Terms of Service to Communication Decency Act, towards Twitter.

Despite the support she’s received from other popular bloggers, I haven’t been able to trust her case fully just yet. Even if she declares that she’s not writing it in her position as Community Manager of Pownce (competitor), there is still conflict of interest. Furthermore, her arguments for "banning" twitter user accounts might be overblown.

I respect that Twitter’s community managers chose to exercise more caution than others before terminating accounts, that’s way more work than simply shutting things down upon request.

For instance, what if a mob of abusive users decide to report your twitter account for termination, even though you did nothing wrong?

Since no one can see the actual offensive tweets in question (she didn’t fully disclose), it’s really up in the air. The bottomline is simply who you’d trust more.

For the record, Evan Williams (Twitter founder) already stated that they have deleted twitter accounts before, but her case was not an account-deletable offense.

Additionally, the following excerpt came from a comment on Zeldman’s blog. Do practice caution as we need to verify that the commenter was indeed Evan Williams:

Evan Williams said on May 23rd, 2008 at 6:26 pm:
I have a list of 13 tweets that Ariel sent us as examples of the abuse from the account she wanted banned. According to our records, this is everything she sent us, except for those from the “confessions” account, which Ariel says was not the main problem. (I couldn’t look those up, because the posts themselves were deleted before we could look at them.)

I would *love* to post the whole file of these examples. I think it would clear a lot of things up. Unfortunately, since this content is the source of all this strife, and it’s now off the Internet, that seems…well, not quite right.

What I will tell you is this:

Out of these posts, exactly one mentions Ariel by name. It calls her “experienced.” The others do not personally identify Ariel.

One of them uses the word “cunt” (with a quote, presumably from Ariel). None contain either “crack” or “whore.” None contain threats, physical or otherwise. Most are insults about physical or personality attributes without referring to anyone specifically. If you were following both Ariel and the account of this woman when these posts were made, it may have been clear who she was referring to. Out of that context, you would probably have no clue. But even if they would have mentioned Ariel by name, most of them are not actionable, because we don’t have a rule against insulting people or hurting their feelings.

Caveat: Many of the examples she sent us were from Flickr. I didn’t look at all of these, because…well, we don’t run Flickr.

Our stance is this: We stand by our TOS. We have deleted accounts for abuse of various kinds. We had to make a judgement call here, as one does in all such cases. This didn’t meet the bar for being banned, in our opinion.

You can disagree with our judgment call. And that’s fine. But you’re choosing to do that without seeing the content, and someone has very carefully painted a picture that has misled many people. (One might ask why Ariel didn’t post the full tweets in order to strengthen her case.)

Even if you do disagree with our judgment call, this is not an argument about whether or not we’re enforcing our TOS; this is an argument about how we define “harassment” or “abuse.”

THAT IS ALL.

Few additional sources:
CNet: Popular blogger ignites uproar over Twitter harassment (May 23, 2008)

SlashDot: Blogger Incites Outcry Over Twitter Harassment

  • http://mundy.typepad.com Mundinator

    I can’t help, but agree that there just isn’t enough information here. Her case is weak, at best. Not to mention, she has called herself a whore.

    http://www.ericrice.com/blog/2007/05/23/help-amanda-chapel-compile-her-list-of-whores/

    Check the comments on that link. I am in no way advocating that harassment is ok, but I just am not convinced that this is harassment. I mean, twitter does have a /block ability.

    Mundinators last blog post..My TF2 Map, CTF_VILLAGE, is Done!

  • noelle

    Thank you for actually taking a critical eye to this issue. There’s been so few people paying attention to what Twitter has had to say, and the fact that Ariel herself hasn’t posted any real evidence to support her allegations besides blame Twitter for not banning the user… I mean, not upholding their ToS.

    Anyway, I appreciate your post.

  • http://ndnl.eu Nils Geylen

    I find this to be more relevant in the signal versus noise debate than anything else. I track Twitter – a lot, it’s open all day – and I follow Ariel and a number of other Twitterati. I’ve actually scanned the Twitter blog post and seen references to the issue from her and others.

    Did it register? Did I care? Unfortunately no. Perhaps this places me well outside the sphere of web-watchers and tech insiders, perhaps it shows how minor the incident is – within the Twitterverse as well as within the greater world itself.

    Should we not be critical then, care, get involved? Yes of course, always, but we should also keep things in perspective and wonder what would happen if a true injustice took place, or a real threat was uttered. Will we only turn our heads then, too, when some web celeb is involved or the blogoshpere picks up on it? I’m as much a follower of the buzz and the chatter and the rumors as the next guy, but to get back to the beginning of this (longish, apologies) comment: is this signal, or is it noise?

    But, Kevin, good post, and a necessary one nonetheless.