Twitter in spotlight over Olympic cases

Twitter is at the centre of two Olympics-related media storms, after a teenager was arrested for posting a death threat to Team GB diver Tom Daley, and a UK journalist had his account suspended after posting criticism of US channel NBC’s coverage.

The 17-year-old male was arrested this morning at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications, Dorset Police confirmed in a statement.

After Daley and Pete Waterfield finished fourth in the men’s synchronised 10m platform diving event, user @Rileyy_69 tweeted: “@TomDaley1984 you let your dad down i hope you know that”.

Daley retweeted it, adding “After giving it my all…you get idiot’s sending me this…”, bringing a barrage of criticism on the original tweeter, who responded to many with abuse.

Although many media outlets have focused on that tweet regarding Daley’s father Rob, who died in May 2011, a further tweet reportedly included a threat to drown Daley. It’s since been deleted.

The account, which has subsequently been locked, also includes a string of abusive and threatening tweets.

The user made several apologies, both directly to Daley and to the public.

Divided opinions

The case has sparked debate, particularly as it follows so soon after the Twitter joke trial, in which Paul Chambers eventually won a High Court appeal against his conviction for sending a “menacing electronic message”.

Chambers’ lawyer, David Allen Green, commented on the Daley case this morning, predicting “a god-awful mess” whether or not there proves to be criminal liability.

One of Chambers’ chief supporters, writer Graham Linehan, also commented. “I’ll defend jokes & hyperbole,” he tweeted. “I won’t defend bullying in form of death threats, violent misogyny, racism, and griefing #twitterjoketrial”

NBC row

The arrest comes as Twitter suspended the account of a British journalist over tweets criticising NBC’s Olympic coverage on Friday.

Guy Adams, The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, posted a series of tweets lambasting the network’s decision to delay its coverage of the opening ceremony by six hours to fill a prime time advertising slot.

“The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what u think!” he tweeted, then included Zenkel’s corporate email address.

According to Twitter, this is a violation of their privacy policy. Twitter alone levies discipline.

Twitter suspended his account “for posting an individual’s private information such as private email address, physical address, telephone number, or financial documents”. The company informed Adams his tweet was “a violation of the Twitter Rules”.

The backlash has been large and vocal, partly as Adams maintains posting a publicly available email address does not violate those rules, and partly because NBC and Twitter are in a partnership for the Games.

“During the games, Twitter is using its Olympics events page to highlight insiders’ views,” said NBC in a pre-Games press release, “and to encourage people to watch NBC’s on-air and online coverage.”

The situation has been further confused by conflicting statements regarding who reported the tweet. NBC released the first, saying: “We filed a complaint with Twitter because a user tweeted the personal information of one of our executives. According to Twitter, this is a violation of their privacy policy. Twitter alone levies discipline.”

But today Adams posted an update. “According to an NBC spokesman called Christopher McCloskey,” he wrote, “it was the micro-blogging site – and not NBC – that was responsible for initiating the complaint that led to my suspension in the first place. I’d be fascinated to hear how Twitter explain or justify this.”

Adams has contacted Twitter to request his account be restored.

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