The Twitter Death Sentence

Today Ray Slakinski was kicked off of Twitter (here he is in my house explaining what happened). He doesn’t know why. He was on Twitter since 2006 at http://twitter.com/rays .

This is reprehensible on Twitter’s part for three reasons.

1. He never got an email or other notification that Twitter was taking down the account.
2. He begged to Twitter, but got an automated reply back with no details as to when he’d get an answer.
3. He has gotten Twitter’s death sentence, but unlike if you get sentenced to death at San Quentin there is no appeals process. You don’t know why you are guilty and there’s no committee or intermediary you can appeal your death sentence to.

This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.

Twitter and Facebook both do this and it is simply outrageous.

If there’s a case for government intervention in our industry this is it, not privacy.

Privacy is small potatoes compared to how these companies throw around their power.

UPDATE: RayS says he just got email from Twitter saying his account was suspended because it looked like he was trying to sell his name. He assures me he was not trying to sell his account. He said he joked a while ago after a baseball game about doing that, but it was just a joke. He’s had his account since 2006 and isn’t likely to sell his account.

@Delbius, at Twitter, answered:

@Scobleizer There was no appearance of any sort of joke and it’s a stated violation of the rules. He can respond to the tickets that I personally answered — not auto-responded to — if he’d like to argue his case. Thanks.

MY ANSWER TO DELBIUS and TWITTER: OK, but it is still OUTRAGEOUS that you give people a death sentence without sending them an email detailing what they did wrong and what they can do about it. They also have no appeals process. Ray says he’s not guilty. You say he is. In human life we have differences of opinions and we need to have a way to appeal these decisions or else you’ll piss someone off enough that they get government intervention. I really really despise how both Twitter and Facebook deal with people here. I get questions from my readers every day about death sentences on both services. GET A BETTER PROCESS!

UPDATE2: Ray’s account is now back up. But the process still sucks.

Comments

  1. Perhaps this tweet is what Twitter is talking about: @raysbaseball I’m willing to sell my twittername to you if you want. I get TONS of tweets that are meant for you. DM me if your interested

  2. Are you kidding me Robert?
    I think I’m more inflamed about your response than the stupid way Twitter deals with user issues.

    RS: “This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.”
    HH: The only people giving Twitter any “Power” are the users. Twitter can determine any means they wish to address issues or perceived issues with user accounts. Robert, Twitter did all the development, owns the infrastructure and owns the product. If they were so stupidly inclined they could shut the whole damn service down. Would you expect the government to intervene because you don’t have your Twits?

    RS: “If there’s a case for government intervention in our industry this is it, not privacy.”
    HH: I know you are not an idiot as I have talked to you and followed you for a while. So, why is it that millions of people (American’s and other nationals included) believe that it is the job of the Government to intervene on private issues and private business transactions more often than not. Our elected officials aren’t 1) qualified to understand the issue and to find an issue in the first place and 2) have a hell of a lot more important things to work on besides your ability to Tweet – Gulf Oil Spill, Financial Trading Reform, Health Care, just to name a few.

    RS: “No, it isn’t. These are now utilities that our businesses rely on. There needs to be a better process or government will get involved in their lives.”
    HH: Utilities like Electricity, Gas and Water? Since when did Twitter become so important to our lives that without it we would surely die or face doom and despair? Do you realize how insane your remarks sound. If Twitter/Facebook/Friend Feed are so important and needed, and since YOU sound like you believe that the answer to all private business conflict is government intervention, why didn’t our great government come up with these products to begin with?

    Oh, yea, that’s right, DARPA did invent the Internet, but if I recall it wasn’t until the private business sector got a hold of it that it really became the platform it is today.

    Robert, put you money where your mouth is… If Twitter policies and Facebook privacy bother you so much, why not lead a boycott until they fix the problems.

    But then you couldn’t Tweet or FB the boycott, so I guess you need them more than they need you after all!

  3. Unfair? Yes. Government intervention? Not sure. Twitter & Facebook own their platforms. I own my shop. Shouldn't we have the right to choose our customers / users / subscribers? The process sucks, and if they piss on/off enough people – people will not use their service.

    Is this a fair argument?

  4. I saw some of the webcast (I'm @darthgarry). Bummer that they act first and ask questions later. I love Twitter and I hope they can minimize occurrences like this in the future, disappointing.

    Garry

  5. As far as I know, Twitter is still small with regards to number of employees and resources. Expecting an immediate response is unrealistic. They probably have to sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails every day. I'm sure it was likely a mistake and they will be happy to re-activate his account. They seem to be having a lot of technical difficulties lately, so maybe that has something to do with it.

    From my experience, the Twitter team does not seem like the power-hungry egomaniacs you make them out to be in this post. Government cannot and should not ever get involved in stuff like this. Like Richard said above, Twitter owns their platform and has a right to choose their customers. But still, I very highly doubt that they singled Ray out. Especially if he didn't do anything wrong. Free expression is what Twitter was built on.

  6. No, it isn't. These are now utilities that our businesses rely on. There needs to be a better process or government will get involved in their lives.

    1. What if Twitter started kicking everyone off that has a profile picture of an African American or referred to going to a mosque? Sometimes it is OK to regulate private companies. We only have Twitter’s word that they do not kick people off for reasons dealing with religion or race (I am NOT implying they do). There should be a transparent process in place when Twitter or Facebook believes their TOS has been violated.

      1. To answer your first question, start using a different service. Nobody is forcing anyone to use Twitter.

    2. Imagine I own a small resteraunt. No imagine that a lot of my supplies for this restaurant come from Costco. My business relies on the Costco. However, Costco reserves the right to not serve me for any reason, just like any other customer. Your argument is logically flawed, from a stand point of what one should expect today. What you’re advocating is the government becoming even more intrusive into our lives. I can not agree with this politically. We need less government, not more. Rather than looking for the government to intervene, why not take control of your own life?

      1. “Need less government not more” is a mantra not based in reality. It’s tantamount to a religious belief, as if it’s some cosmic law that must be applied to everything. It’s really small-minded and makes everyone’s logic flawed if you accept it without question. It is possible for intelligent people to consider things on a case by case basis. And in the case of Costco, you are wrong (though you would be right in Sarah Palin’s white wild west USofA). There are a number of instances in which Costco could be held liable for not serving you: if it were withholding services on the basis of racial discrimination, if it were violating anti-trust laws, if it were coercing vendors and customers to manipulate markets. So, let’s say you were walking in East Palo and got mugged, would you accept, “Rather than looking for the government to intervene, why not take control of your own life?” There are a range of improper dealings for which people seek outside resolution, and Slakinski’s case appears to fall within it.

  7. Government intervention? Really? There are plenty of alternatives to Twitter. Not the least of which is one you mention–Facebook. It's not like this person is no longer able to communicate. E-mail still works. So does Buzz. And, you know–his cell phone.

    This is pretty ridiculous, agreed, but “throw around their power”? Come on.

  8. If Twitter and Facebook want to keep promoting themselves as tools for business, to be a utility to use Robert's word, they absolutely need better processes to handle these kinds of situations.

  9. Businesses take on a calculated risk when they decide to rely on tools like Twitter. It is not Twitter's responsibility to make sure that you like their process. If you don't like their process, then you are free to leave an use some other tool. It is precisely for that reason that it is in Twitter's interest to have a good process, but that doesn't mean that you are owed one.

  10. Agreed; if I chose not to do business with another company, or allow someone's comment on my YouTube video, that's MY choice. If I block them, that's MY choice. I am not obligated to explain it. Same with Twitter. This sense of entitlement we have for free services like Facebook/Twitter is hilarious.

  11. Yeah, it's been a problem before and will be a problem again. When one of Dave Winer's test accounts was closed without warning back in November I asked if Twitter needed an ombudsman, and I really think they do.

    Let's call a spade a spade – their support totally sucks. And that's not a criticism of the people, who must be overwhelmed. It's a criticism of the system. But of greater concern is their almost complete lack of consistency towards their own policy and rules.

  12. Wait….he didn't break the TOS. Even saying you want to sell it, isn't the same as selling the account. This does highlight the dangers of building on systems you can't control.

  13. Whoa, okay, Robert, hold on. You just compared being banned from a website on teh Internets to being sentenced to death.

    I agree with you that this is a very bad thing and something that Twitter or Facebook or whoever shouldn't be able to do so negligently. However, this sort of hyperbole is what is commonly referred to as “BAWWWWWing” and severely dampens your argument.

  14. Fully agreed on process. If Twitter were smart they would build the process with the community. However, even when it comes to utilities my phone company can decide not to service me or treat me poorly. My recourse – find another provider.

    Personally, Twitter is a vital business tool for me – so there's a conflict. Where to go if your graph doesn't follow?

  15. It is not just Twitter and Facebook – Google does this as well – they can ban your Adsense or Adwords account; And in the case of google – they ban you for life – you can never apparently ever again apply for enroll into these programs.

  16. So it appears…@RayS DID violate the ToS. His account was suspended. Twitter DID send an e-mail to the account on file at the time of suspension. AND appealing is as simple as replying to that e-mail. Seems like a good enough process to me.

  17. There appear to be inaccuracies in your post, given @Delbius' replies regarding email. As a private company, Twitter does have a right to make changes based upon its terms of service. A user that is unaware of a rule is still subject to them. You also seem to have taken version of the word utility to heart that comes from the marketing department, not the OED: Twitter and Facebook are useful for information or connection but neither is necessity like water or electricity. As @Adam points out, this isn't the same.

    Getting angry over a user that experienced inscrutable service isn't unreasonable, and I think @Sheamus' point regarding an ombudsman isn't either. Calling a suspension a “death sentence” repeatedly and suggesting that there is no recourse, however, when it seems clear that there is a ticket in… As@Zachary & @Brandon highlight above, your approach misrepresents the events as they appear to have occurred. Violation -> notification email -> appealing via email/ticket.

  18. Recourse: Don't use them. You're right – businesses depend on Facebook and Twitter (just like they do on Apple, btw), but that doesn't change a thing. Companies have been eating their partners forever; this is a normal course of business. When a company is small, it leverages partners to grow, and when it gets large and powerful, it starts dictating whatever terms it wants. If the terms get lousy enough, partners (and customers) go elsewhere.

    The only way we want government intervention in this process is if the process is broken, or if there are significant barriers preventing a competitor from jumping in and offering a better alternative.

    If you don't like the way these guys operate, get behind a service you like better.

  19. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement, “This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.” So why exactly did you give them so much power?

  20. @RayS is back. Are you sure the process is so broken? Do you really believe government intervention is needed to regulate how Twitter addresses ToS violations?

  21. You keep exclaiming that the process sucks, but I don't see where you're coming from. Could you please explain why you think this and perhaps suggest a better alternative to the process?

  22. There may one day be government intervention, but one case won't create the momentum needed to push a measure through a legislature or Congress. Imagine the education process that would be required.. If there were economic damages in this case, then @RayS has a court system at his disposal and can always write his Congressman in the meantime.

    If something like this happens to an elected official in the middle of a hotly contested campaign, then watch out!

  23. Robert, someone recently used the same argument regarding gov. regulation of Google on a post that Vanessa Fox wrote. Thomas Hawk is waging a similar battle with Flickr.

    I'm not very sympathetic regarding the Google argument but deleting a paid account on Flickr is another story. At lease he got his Twitter account back and there was a semblance of a process to do so. On Flickr, apparently a death sentence is final with no authority to effectively reach out to.

  24. This has to be a joke. Twitter can kick off of its services whoever they want. Having a Twitter account is not a constitutional right. Only a severely internet-addicted blogger could think losing a Twitter account warrants government intervention. Stop using the phrase “death sentence.” It's a Twitter account, for God's sake.

  25. Yes. Anytime someone is kicked off a service they should:

    1. Get an email BEFORE the account gets banned.
    2. Have transparency into what they did wrong (Ray only found out after we started bitching in public).
    3. Have a process that's fair and fast. When you email in, you should find out how many hours it will be before someone will give you an answer. Even if the answer is “we're not giving you back your account” there should be an appeals process.
    4. Have an appeals process that includes someone independent from the company, like a mediator.

    1. Robert,

      This is an excessively high bar to be able to meet to be able to deal with spam and abuse at the scale that Twitter and Facebook see it. The only real way to have a chance to keep up is to ban early and ban often. What is the point of a third-party mediator? These services have no obligation to you to provide you with service.

  26. Yup. And he says he said that in jest. It was also done a month ago, so he didn't realize that's why his account was suspended. They didn't spell out what he had done wrong, or give him an ability to answer.

    He says he was joking around that day because he was getting so many baseball requests.

    By the way, many people have bought their names on Twitter. @jason, for instance. So, it's easy to miss that this is against the rules.

  27. I agree, too much power. But they're not the only ones, talk to your friend Thomas Hawk about what Flickr does to some of its PAYING users.

  28. This +is+ a death sentence. Heck, if you put me to death at least the memory of me would still exist. Here, though, they can erase everything you did for years.

    1. Surely, if everything you’ve done in the last few years exists only on Twitter/Facebook then something’s wrong!

  29. I think the lesson here is, as long as you know someone famous, you can do pretty much whatever you want to, and claim ignorance.

  30. I had this same thing happen to me on Yelp.com. One day I logged in and got a message that I was kicked off because I had violated their terms of service. No further details were given. There was nothing that I could have possibly done to violate their TOS, and having written a large number of meaningful reviews that I put a lot of time into, I was infuriated. Calls and e-mails all went unanswered. I finally submitted a complaint on BBB.org explaining what happened and demanding that my account be reinstated. Well, wouldn't you know it, after several weeks, Yelp was finally forced by the BBB to respond, and elected to reinstate my account. No reason was given for why it was rejected in the first place.

    It may take awhile, but when you find yourself without recourse, go to BBB.org and file a complaint and you will get your voice heard.

    (Or go to @scobelizer and get him to blog about it.) :)

  31. I have to wonder if the account would be back at all if it hadn't become news because of Robert's involvement. How many people don't know inflential people and never get things cleared up? It makes you wonder.

  32. Robert, Twitter and Facebook *aren't* utilities. I'm not even sure you could make a case that their business practices are unfair. I'm with most everybody here – stop whining and walk away.

  33. We are priveleged to use them ? Really ? And where would Twitter be if millions of users did not take the time to use Twitter ? It is not a one-way street.

  34. Rob, Thanks for championing the little guy consumer and the phone call! Anyone arguing this with you should experience their account being turned off for a day and know how horrible this feels. This has been a problem stigmatizing untold thousands of people and creating an environment of fear of using Twitter and it keeps going on. I and hundreds of people I know wake up everyday expecting our accounts
    to be suspended by Twitters crazy bots. Its a nightmare and embarassing especially to a business. I know tons of business people that have refused
    to invest in Twitter because sometimes 20% of their employees have been suspended at one time or another. Its insane.

    Twitter lives in a bubble on the elements about this problem and what customer service means. Customer service doeant mean responding to complaints of their abuse suspension of accounts and getting them turned back on. It should be KEEPING them from happening in the first place.

    Its illogical. Does Walmart suspend customers that over shop there? Nordstroms? Hello? Twitter should CARE ENOUGH about their customers to warn them, to communicate with them. Should I dare say ENGAGE!! Twitter is mooching monetarily off of the volunteered info of its base, yet it treats
    them like they are bothering them and making its system over work. Shut up. Do you know how many customer service based companies would love to have that problem.

    Masses of people should not be being suspended by their bots, it could be hundreds or thousands a day. Alot of people leave and dont reply to their initial email and Twitter thinks it beat a bot. Intead its just a confused consumer who cant figure out what to do or find, “the file a ticket” screen which is very well hidden.

    Really, go on Twitter right now and see how many pages it takes you to find “file a ticket.” THEN, when you get the ticket and file, you get a auto reply from Twitter. Now most people are patterned that this is a “we got your ticket email” and ignore it. Instead, its a “no you got to re apply to Twitter to get them to actaully look at your account. I know tons of people who ignored the email and never got turned back on. Its piss poor customer service and propagates the attitude that Twitter doesnt want you to bother them.
    The email basically says – “hey stupid you broke the TOS, shouldve read the rules and if your smart enough to read the fine print you’ll know that we want you to retype what you said in begging for help some more.” Its an moronic experience. How much would Twitter like people to beg?

    I’m not exaggerating. I can bring probably 100-1000+ people in my circle that will confirm this experience. Twitter should hire a survey company to rundown all the suspended accounts and find out who ofter this happens.

    Then, whenever Twitter gets back to you, you might get your account turned back on. Are the people at Twitter bad? No, but the approach attitudes to dealing with the issues are flawed at the core. Twitters more concerned about celebrities than its core user base and power users that inspire and teach people to not leave Twitter. YouTube embraced its core heavy users and look what they became.

    Successful companies follow what the consumer market tells them that they want to experience with their product. Twitter just abuses and suspends sometimes its most loyal followers.

    Twitter needs to care about its customers and realize they are not tech people. Most people on Twitter can barely manage going on to a computer and Twitter let alone “game” its system so their are stunned when a bot suspends them for something they accidently did. Twitters communication comes across as acting out at people (and this friend of yours Rob is a perfect example) like they are some top notch hacker. People dont know what Twitter employees know and should stop abusing people for stuff they innocently do.

    Most people dont read a TOS or let alone know what it says. Yet Twitter chastises people and accuses them of breaking rules they never knew.

    Twitter customer service should be about rarely suspending a customer after warnings even.

    Facebook and Twitters lack of service issues and the irony of social media engagement: 60% of people leave, you have to wonder how many of them just give up. The people a lot of times dont get the first email and just go open new Twitter accounts which probably makes more work for Twitter. How stupid in Twitter making more issues for Twitter?

    If half your customers leave your service in the first 90 days, why would you abuse and drive away the ones who actually stay? Especially, when your making money off of their content? Hello, wouldn’t you want more?

    I hope you’ll use your powerful soapbox to defend the little people who are the unknown victims of not knowing why they are abused. I’ve talked to a few hundred people over the last year who are devastated when they lose their accounts. Walmart and Fortune 500 companies dont treat their customers this way. Harvard Business School and Tom Peters dont have a chapter on this behavior anywhere.

    AOL abused their clients to the point AG’s stepped in. Myspace was disconnected from its base. Freindster etc. For a company thats main issue is its customers dont understand it and leave, it should do a lot better job to appreciate and listen to the ones it has. Twitter’s core attitudes need to change and it needs to stop sabotaging beyond the real problem. Its a disposable world Twitter should humble itself by calling AOL and Myspace ask what it feels like your base leaves the abuse. Twitter needs to quit being a bully and realize the way its being perceived outside of the HQ bubble.

    Anonymous (I’d leave my name hear but Twitter in Decemeber threatened me and many top core users to take away our outspoken accounts in a shakedown letter in December)

  35. Well, yes, but calling it a death sentence is not a way to get sympathy for the cause. I could make the best argument in the world for protecting people from having their data removed, but the moment I say something that sounds like “Twitter is killing people” I have left the territory of perceptible legitimacy, catapulted straight over Fox News, and entered the realm of a maladjusted 15-year-old emo kid writing in his journal on deviantART.

    And I know from being a maladjusted 15-year-old emo kid writing in his journal on deviantART.

  36. Government control/interference in internet services is not good for users. Ask the Turks who can't access over 28 Google services including Docs, Translate and Maps because of recent IP blocking.

  37. Are you seriously comparing real life death *favorably* to deletion of your twitter account? You, my friend, are a cautionary tale. I hope things turn around for you soon!

  38. If you kicked me off this blog and blocked me, should I go cry to the government? Should I DEMAND that you hear me out? It's YOUR site, your rules. Yeah, I'd be pissed if Twitter suspended me, but I wouldn't threaten government action; that sounds ignorant just saying it. That's like running home telling my mom that a kid wouldn't let me play in the baseball game at school.

  39. Twitter has already collaborated with the US government in trying to throw the last Iranian presidential election result, Google gives the NSA anything they want. Do you seriously think they're going to lose sleep over individual users feeling badly treated?

    Here's an idea – next time you lose your Twitter or Facebook account, create a new one with a new email address. The temporary loss of traction might be healthy!

  40. Robert, a utility is an essential public service that is granted a government monopoly, for the public good, as I understand it.

    I don't recall that Twitter has been ruled as an essential public service. I know people who don't Twitter. I know people who have stopped Twitter. Both sorts have continued their lives without the disruption that would happen if, say, you couldn't get electricity.

    I also don't recall Twitter being declared a monopoly. If you're not able to tweet, apparently Facebook and Google Buzz remain options for you to declare whatever you want to the world, to name only some update services.

    So let's set aside the argument that the government should skip attending to things like the Gulf oil spill and dash in to nationalize Twitter. That seems a little extreme.

    As for the “death sentence” that has no appeal system and no notification, are you saying that Del Harvey who runs Twitter's Trust and Safety team is a complete liar? Because when I read all the tweets she's done back to your questions, it's completely different than what you've written.

    I won't link to them all but instead quote, so that I don't get entangled in some spam filter. But you said the account was deleted and she replied:

    “Not sure what you're asking. We've notified the user of the violation, but the account wasn't deleted, it was suspended.”

    and

    “Additionally, an email was sent to the address on file when the suspension took place explaining why he was suspended. FYI.”

    and

    “My answer to your answer: we did send an email and he can respond to the emails to appeal. That's the process.”

    and

    “Again: we did send notification of the violation, the rules are posted, and the appeal is as simple as responding to the ticket.”

    Four times she says that notice was given, and apparently before you started ringing the alarm bells. Is that not the case?

    As for there being no appeals process, search for “How To Contest Account Suspension” at help.twitter.com. That seems to explain the process. I mean, the end of the page says:

    File a Support Ticket to Appeal Suspension

    To petition for account reinstatement, file a Support request. Be sure to select “my account is suspended” from the drop-down menu. If you submit while logged in to your Twitter account, you'll be able to check on your ticket status anytime by visiting your Twitter Support home page and clicking “check on your existing requests.”

  41. Twitter VP of Comms here. I checked the facts from our side and we sent @rays a TOS violation notice about this tweet: “RayS‎: @raysbaseball I'm willing to sell my twittername to you if you want. I get TONS of tweets that are meant for you. DM me if your interested” (http://is.gd/cKM9J).

    After the suspension, the user filed a ticket that took issue with the decision. Our head of trust & safety personally responded to the user in less than 24 hours. In the exchange the user said that we he was joking in his tweet and we gave him the benefit of the doubt and reinstated the account.

    there was notification.

    there was an appeals process.

    we are not perfect. we will mistakes, but we try hard to the right thing for users. and, I don't know of anyone who tries harder than Del Harvey.

    1. Sean he shouldn’t been suspended in the first place or had to suffer that abusive anxiety. Its about customer experience and service duh. Twitters attitude and approach is the problem. Re-read:

      1. He never got an email or other notification that Twitter was taking down the account.
      2. He begged to Twitter, but got an automated reply back with no details as to when he’d get an answer.
      3. He has gotten Twitter’s death sentence.

      When did causing anxiety, abuse and overworking the consumer become the business CSM standard? Does Walmart and Nordstrom do this now?

  42. I totally agree! Do you Twitter is getting AWAY with this suspending countless people daily. Your statement:

    This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.
    Twitter and Facebook both do this and it is simply outrageous.

    Couldn’t be more true. Call it an abuse of power. As absolute power corrupts! Their customer care and concern is about zero. The Twitter Generals are COMPLETELY checked out to the realities of social media and the needs of their users.

    IT’S ABOUT THE CUSTOMER SERVICE ELEMENT! AND YOU DON’T TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS THAT WAY!

    Scobleizer is awesome for having the balls to say this! Why? It seems Twitter loves to punish anyone who says anything against their lame & stupid concepts of “How” we should experience our social media experience.

    Someone in Silicon Valley needs to get the Memo that we NEED a BETTER twitter….. ASAP These morons at Twitter … Biz & Ev are not cutting it.

  43. Robert, after seeing Sean Garrett's post and reading the responses here on this blog, I think it's time you took a deep breath and admitted you were wrong. First of all, Twitter *did* follow a process – a process that I think is fair. Second, comparing a Twitter account suspension with a death sentence is over-dramatic and hyperbolic. And finally, suggesting that Twitter is a “utility that our businesses rely on” and if they didn't change their practices that “government will get involved in their lives” isn't the way I, or quite a few others, think the world should be run.

    Of course, you have a right to your opinion. This is your blog, not mine. As you're probably aware by now, I'm a big fan of Twitter and I think they're doing a most things right. Sometimes I wonder if they're “mean enough” to thrive in the current Internet business environment. And I think they might be venturing into some development efforts that could better be done by strong partners than developed in-house. But on the whole, I'd bet on Twitter to succeed, and with them the developer ecosystem.

  44. To quote Paul Carr, “The test, by the way, for if X is a utility: if the sentence ‘Millions of children in Africa have no access to x’ doesn’t sound like a headline from the Onion. Try it with electricity, water and Facebook. See?”

  45. Rob, Thanks for championing the little guy consumer and the phone call! Anyone arguing this with you should experience their account being turned off for a day and know how horrible this feels. This has been a problem stigmatizing untold thousands of people and creating an
    environment of fear of using Twitter and it keeps going on. I and hundreds of people I know, wake up everyday expecting our accounts to be suspended by Twitters crazy bots. Its a nightmare and embarrassing especially to a business. I know tons of business people that have refused
    to invest in Twitter their business, because sometimes 20% of their employees have been suspended at one time or another. Its insane.

    Twitter lives in a bubble on the elements about this problem and what customer service means. Customer service doesnt mean responding to complaints of their abuse suspension of accounts and getting them turned back on. It should be KEEPING them from happening in the first place.
    Its illogical. Does Walmart suspend customers that over shop there? Nordstroms? Hello? Twitter should CARE ENOUGH about their customers to warn them, to communicate with them. Should I dare say ENGAGE!! Twitter is mooching monetarily off of the volunteered info of its base, yet it treats them like they are bothering them and making its system over work. Shut up. Do you know how many customer service based companies would love to have that problem. The police dont arrest you and then decide later if your innocent or not.

    Masses of people should not be being suspended by their bots, it could be hundreds or thousands a day now. Alot of people leave and dont reply to their initial email and Twitter thinks it beat a bot. Instead its just a confused consumer who cant figure out what to do or how to find, “the file a ticket” screen which is very well hidden.

    Really, go on Twitter right now and see how many pages it takes you to find “file a ticket.” THEN, when you get the ticket and file, you get a auto reply from Twitter. Now most people are patterned that this is a “we got your ticket email” and ignore it. Instead, its a
    “no you got to re apply to Twitter to get them to actaully look at your account.” I know tons of people who ignored the email and never got turned back on. Its piss poor customer service and propagates the attitude that Twitter doesnt want you to bother them.

    The email basically says – “hey stupid you broke the TOS, shouldve read the rules and if your smart enough to read the fine print you'll know that we want you to retype what you said in begging for help some more.” Its an moronic experience. How much would Twitter like people to beg?

    I'm not exaggerating. I can bring probably 100-1000+ people in my circle that will confirm this experience. Twitter should hire a survey company to rundown all the suspended accounts and find out who ofter this happens. Ask any top user of Twitter we've heard hundreds of complaints and stories.

    Then, whenever Twitter gets back to you, you might get your account turned back on. Are the people at Twitter bad? No, but the approach attitudes to dealing with the issues are flawed at the core. Twitters more concerned about celebrities than its core user base and power users that
    inspire and teach people to not leave Twitter. YouTube embraced its core heavy users and look what they became.

    Successful companies follow what the consumer market tells them that they want to experience with their product. Twitter just abuses and suspends sometimes its most loyal followers.

    Twitter needs to care about its customers and realize they are not tech people. Most people on Twitter can barely manage going on to a computer and Twitter let alone “game” its system so they are stunned when a bot suspends them for something they accidently did. Twitters communication comes across as acting out at people (and this friend of yours Rob is a perfect example) like
    they are some top notch hacker. People dont know what Twitter employees know and should stop abusing people for stuff they innocently do. Most people dont read a TOS or let alone know what it says. Yet Twitter chastises people and accuses them of breaking rules they never knew.

    Twitter customer service should be about rarely suspending a customer and only after warnings.

    Facebook and Twitters lack of service issues and the irony of social media engagement: 60% of people leave, you have to wonder how many of them just give up. The people a lot of times dont get the first email and just go open new Twitter accounts which probably makes more work for Twitter. How stupid is Twitter for making more issues for Twitter?

    If half your customers leave your service in the first 90 days, why would you abuse and drive away the ones who actually stay? Especially, when your making money off of their content? Hello, wouldn't you want more?

    I hope you'll use your powerful soapbox to defend the little people who are the unknown victims of not knowing why they are abused. I've talked to a few hundred people over the last year who are devastated when they lose their accounts. Walmart and Fortune 500 companies dont treat their customers this way. Harvard Business School and Tom Peters dont have a chapter on this
    behavior anywhere.

    AOL abused their clients to the point AG's stepped in. Myspace was disconnected from its base. Friendster etc. For a company thats main issue, is its customers dont understand it and leave, it should do a lot better job to appreciate and listen to the ones it has. Twitter's core attitudes need to change and it needs to stop sabotaging beyond the real problem. Its a disposable world
    Twitter should humble itself by calling AOL and Myspace ask what it feels like when your base leaves the abuse. Twitter needs to throw out it core customer service model and start from scratch
    with making the customer #1.

    Sean – they should not be suspended in the first place. Keep repeating that.

    Anonymous (I'd leave my name hear but Twitter in Decemeber threatened me and many top core users to take away our outspoken accounts in a shakedown letter in December)

  46. Sean I would implore you to think outside the box or Twitter in this case. Suspending clients first and making people beg for reinstatement is not a proper CSM model for companies. Yes a few lazy tech companies still dont get it, but thats no excuse.

    Its great if your a police chief in a martial law run police state where people are guilty until proven innocent but this is an obscene way to suggest Twitter is taking care of a clients issues that Twitter causes in the first place. I cannot follow the logic there.

    Customer 1st. Suspend after all else fails.

  47. It's like getting kicked off the phone network, which happens when we don't pay our bill. Makes you wonder at how subsidized social communication / wifi would affect the economy at a reasonable per node data rate.

    I mentioned something similar about Facebook with government intervention back in April, but now I think the free market will push for something like distributed Identica, Laurent's OneSocialWeb or what Diaspora's been supported to deliver.

  48. This is no different from anything else they do. They give no answers to their users. I've been trying to get my hands on an account name that made one tweet almost three years ago. I've contacted support numerous times, but they remain silent as usual, just like in this case.

  49. Flickr do it too. The Flickr Police will wipe your account without warning or recourse.

    What annoys me most tho about these businesses is not that they do it, but they make it so damn hard to contact them to find out why.

    I totally agree with you, Robert. These companies should be accountable for their actions, irrespective of whether the services is free or not.

    And it's a joke for people to say “go elsewhere”. You have to go where the people are. And that's Twitter and Facebook. So they've got you over a barrel. You need them more than they need you, and they treat you that way.

  50. Sorry Robert but here you are wrong. This is a private company. There should not be any sense of entitlement on our part towards this service. They provide this service for free and we use it according to rules we all agreed to in the EULA. Even if selling the account was a “joke” try explaining that at the airport after you say – as a joke – that you're carrying a ticking device…

    Fact of the matter is, we all know – or should know since we clicked “accept” – what are the rules. You don't play by them, well bye-bye.

    And once again, there should be no sense of entitlement on our part. Someone had a great idea – Twitter – that a heck of a lot of people are using for free. Great! But if they want to take down Twitter tomorrow morning, that's they're prerogative.

    I usually agree with you, but not this time.

  51. Are you TROLLING or something dude?

    I quote: “This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company. Twitter and Facebook both do this and it is simply outrageous. If there’s a case for government intervention in our industry this is it, not privacy.”

    Really? FUCKING REALLY?

    So if I go create a new company and it gets really popular, because of it's popularity the government should come in and tell me what I can and cannot do with my own company? HELL NO.

    If you feel 'outraged' by their behavior, then you are free to do exactly what you've just done. Make public statements and complain. Try and get them to change their ways.

    But to want the government to step into the business affairs of a website? A private business? One that is entirely voluntary to use? Just because you disagree with a decision they made?

    As John Stossel if famous for saying, “Give me a break!”

  52. @sembiance, if you treat your customers like shit, and you have millions of customers, it's quite reasonable for someone to step in admonish you and demand you lift your game. And it's quite reasonable for that to be the government. They are after all the law makers.

    Who do you think makes the laws any business must follow? Governments. We have laws to protect the rights of workers, and laws to protect the rights of customers.

    Why shouldn't we ask the government to ask us to protect our rights as customers of Twitter, Facebook etc?

    If you start a business, there are already laws you must follow. Laws that included customer's rights. A new business is not a law unto itself.

    Why should Twitter, Facebook or you be able to setup a business and treat their customers like shit? Especially when that could have serious impact on the customer's own business.

    Also, it's unreasonable and misleading to describe Twitter as “voluntary”. It's like telling businesses not to have a website. You have to go where the market is. Many businesses need a Twitter presence. It's hardly optional or voluntary for them.

    There's probably already laws about businesses that rely on membership. Those laws should be clarified so that anyone who's membership is terminated, must receive an explanation as to why, and be provided information on how to challenge the decision.

    Personally, I would also like it to include a warning system i.e. a warning to comply with the T&C within 7 days, and with an explanation of which condition is being breached.

    How would you feel if your local council came down and bulldozed your front yard without any warning because it breached some local law that you didn't know about? You would as a minimum expect the courtesy of a warning to comply.

    So why do you think businesses should have the right to behave as they like?

  53. I like this sentence:
    This is an outrageous amount of power to give any company.
    Indeed. Where do they get such power? Oh, by way of the free market. The power they have is the power “we” give them. Imagine a company providing a free service suddenly deciding they won't provide said free service to a particular user. Bad PR? You betcha. A part of what you get with a free service – unfortunately so.

  54. Robert I agree with you, these services are much more than private businesses or shops, these are “social” platforms,users participate with the belief that at least some social norms would be adhered to by all. We try to emulate our physical world social behavior,mannerism,etiquette on the web to gain trust which is necessary for online businesses. Service providers cannot ban users based on their whims, regular users have much to lose.

    However, governmental interference sounds scary…what we need is perhaps an appellate authority, an international tribunal with limited jurisdiction or may be a consortium…

  55. If you think this is bad, you should find what PayPal and ebay do. They don’t just shut you out without recourse, they raid your bank accounts.

  56. I'm curious as to what you did to get banned. But it really seemed rather harsh. And besides, what else is there to do in Twitter than to sell your name, right? The good thing about free service is that you can always create a new account. That is if you still want to tweet.

  57. Whoa! Can we tone down the metaphors here! There's a big difference between joking about selling your Twitter screen name to a major league baseball franchise and joking about carrying a bomb on an airliner! Just as there's a big difference between suspending a Twitter account and a lethal injection.

    “we all know – or should know” … well, actually, few people read the TOS of Twitter, or for that matter, any of the services they subscribe to on the Internet. Facebook proved that in spades.

    “But if they want to take down Twitter tomorrow morning, that's their prerogative.” That's highly unlikely.

  58. There are quite a few arguments for Twitter as a private enterprise here and against regulation or government intrusion. It's not as simple as “Twitter is a personal business” because Twitter is also a monopoly. There are no alternatives to Twitter that have the breadth and width of distribution they have. A comparison would be you getting kicked off “email”, where you had no where else to go.

    While Twitter is a private business, as a monopoly they have a responsibility to the general public. Or else, let's simply make “twittering” a standard format of communication for the web and let anyone buy servers and build competing services that utilize the communication standard.

  59. That's EXACTLY HOW politicians work! Lots of industries are regulated. You aren't allowed to put drugs onto the market without regulation. You aren't allowed to run a bank without regulation. Even oil companies are regulated (and wait to see what happens now).

  60. Treating customers badly is not generally a good idea…but…when you use a free service (like Twitter or Facebook) you are not a customer. The people who pay for the advertising are the customers.

  61. @znmeb, I disagree. “A monopoly exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.”

    That's exactly what Scoble is discussing here.

  62. Danny,

    Facebook and Google Buzz aren't relevant in an argument about whether or not Twitter is a monopoly because they don't have the same product nor the same distribution. The railroad industry was where monopolies were first pushed back on by the government. Patrons could not choose which railway service to ride on. Imagine Facebook, Google Buzz and Twitter as different railroads covering different portions of Internet communication. Since Ray could not access his account, and there were no other alternatives… Twitter acted much like a monopoly in this case. Ray didn't have any other service to turn to to communicate with his followers or listen to those he followed.

    I found a definition online (mentioned below). “A monopoly exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.”

    Monopolies aren't illegal. However, when they begin to manipulate access and pricing… regulation must step in to defend the consumer. I believe Robert is right in this case even though I lean Libertarian and often hate to see the government step into the private sector.

  63. Are you serious? A monopoly? Ever heard of Friend Feed? I guess the other services like Facebook don't count either?

    You guys who talk about a monopoly in regards to software companies make me laugh at your stupidity. If Twitter gets really bad with customer service, it only take about 2-1/2 brains, a lot of coffee and a month or so before an alternative service is up and running.

  64. Actually Robert, “The Bell Companies” are a result of a monopoly being broken up. And interesting enough, the monopoly that got broken up was at one time created and regulated by the same Federal government that then broke it up.

    And interesting enough, the same company that got broken up (AT&T) managed to come back together as one of the three remaining large telcos.

    Real utilities are so different than software companies. One could argue that Apple and Google has too much power now like Microsoft did in the 80's. The only real power these companies have today is that they CREATE GREAT PRODUCTS that people invest into with their usage.

    As for Twitter, the service is FREE and I think asking the government to do any regulation of a free service is going to be interesting… this is the craziest conversation I've ever heard you embark upon.

    Move on, Twitter can do as it likes… if their business practices suck, give your business to another company.

    If they break the law, that's a different cow to milk. So far, we haven't heard any arguments supporting that.

  65. Wow – nice. I wouldn't ordinarily reply to someone who calls me stupid, but take a second look at the word 'monopoly'. You're right, there are monopolies everywhere in the software industry (and beyond). Facebook is a monopoly as well.. that doesn't mean they are doing anything illegal. Monopolies are NOT illegal.

    You've missed the point… the question isn't whether or not Twitter is a monopoly, the question is whether or not they are manipulating access to the products and services they only offer.

    No, another software company with a lot of coffee is not going to have a service up in a month. Twitter has surpassed the point of being a cool little app and now has the distribution, content, and control to influence search, social, news, commerce, politics… and Ray. :)

    To Robert's point, that comes with responsibility.

  66. 1. Exclusive control by one group of the means of producing or selling a commodity or service: “Monopoly frequently … arises from government support or from collusive agreements among individuals” (Milton Friedman).
    2. Law A right granted by a government giving exclusive control over a specified commercial activity to a single party.

    Just because you think it is a monopoly doesn't make it so…

  67. By the way, I'm not un-named. And yes, calling someone stupid in public isn't very polite. But I think you and Robert and Ray are off on a bad gripe.

    You guys used the word monopoly and government intervention because you don't like the way Twitter is treating some of their customers. BTW, I never said a monopoly is illegal, at least I don't think I did or even alluded to that fact.

    And to answer your re-directed question – Yes, Twitter is manipulating access to their product and service as they only offer them.

    And that my friend is called capitalism and the free market system.e

    Herschel Horton

  68. Robs right, the government is stepping up internet oversight because its being used more and is largely unregulated. This issue with Twitter bottom line is about Customer Service. No company in the real world abuses customers with this suspension until proven innocent. Its completely inappropriate. Tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google put customer service in fixing issues on the back burner. Its a nightmare to resolve stuff with them. I could give you thousands of cases. Tech people are not usually people people and I think thats the problem. That and customer service is unregulated and probably should be by the FTC.

    People invest their time and money into their Social Media accounts and they are in effect a property albeit shared. Damages are created when an account is suspended. _I know business people who feel that even though their account was suspended by accident by Twitter last year, clients called them questioning their business quality and stability under the perception they did something wrong_. So this does effect the bottom line. If damages are created, legal liability is a remedy. Twitter should be smart in trying to avoid that and realize it.

    The FTC regulates how consumers are treated and should probably have oversight in these sorts of issues. Lets remember the bottom line point of Robs: Treating customers with a guilty until proven innocent suspension policy is medieval and grossly negligent in the norms of customer service. Twitter has customers that it makes money off of their content and should treat kindly.

  69. Despite overseeing so very many extant, thriving client Twitter accounts I too was bounced out for no discernible reason. I, personally, just walked away from the account (frankly, it did nothing for me in the first place).

  70. i got deleted by facebook four days ago – am still waiting for a proper explanation and they arnt responding to my emails. there was apparently “suspicious payment activity” with a bank starting proceedings but I have assured them it is nothing to do with me and they wont give me details!! i run four businesses – one of them a wine group that i have grown through facebook over the past two years and this is simply NOT good enough. i have international followers and they would have no clue as to what is going on? facebook have not even put a notice up onto the group to say that it has been temporariliy suspended = it's just vanished. gone. caput.

    SO NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!

  71. How much does an account go for these days? What did Jason pay? That's an interesting concept. I'd never buy or sell but I'd love to read about how it was done.

  72. I think Jason snuck in before the rules were set. But it's definitely against the rules now. Heck, as this whole episode shows it's even against the rules to THREATEN to break the rules.

  73. My wife had a twitter account under her initials “tlc” — I think about a month ago twitter reassigned it without notice to “The Learning Channel”.

  74. Yes, I've been making this case for government intervention, and marshalling the Supreme Court cases and thinking about this for years, here under my real-life name where I publish for work:
    http://www.rferl.org/content/Facebook_Caught_Be

    as well as at my tech blog secondthoughts.typepad.com

    It's not just Twitter and Facebook. It's Second Life. It's Techcrunch. It's all kinds of places. Run by you tech biggies in Silicon Valley who made these services this way, so you have only yourselves to blame, and each other to convince.

    Whenever normal people outside the Silicon Valey magic circle show up and point out that it is outrageous that an entire sector of American business — and in the communications and media industries what's more — feels itself excempt to the rule of law, you geeks say the following:

    “Oh, it's just right-wing Christian fundamentalists who want to inflict Family Values and censorship on us and put conservative Christan congressmen in our hair to stop our freedoms as secular liberals”

    “Oh, we can't possibly have any government regulation of our precious selves as it will stop our freedom to publish, which gets to trump every other freedom in the metaverse, including everybody else's freedom to publish”

    “Oh, we can't have government regulation because it starts with the laudable but limited goals of stopping child pornography and gambling but ends by stopping everybody's fun.”

    “Oh, the U.S. government is evil and imperialist and has wars against Islam and can't ever be entrusted to run the world's social media any more than it runs the Internet.”

    You go on saying all those things, over and over again, and then you cry when one of your own is blocked unfairly for “any reason or no reason”.

  75. I used to live near Washington DC. It's been said that the people who live in that area have no idea how the rest of the nation thinks, and after moving to the Portland, Oregon area, I discovered that's essentially correct – people inside the Washington Beltway *do* think differently.

    And I've come to the same conclusion about the Bay Area / Silicon Valley. And I'm starting to see the same thing for Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York. The major cities of the USA have been around long enough to have built unique cultures, networks and such. You'd think that the Internet and the relatively low-cost of air travel inside the USA would act to diffuse these differences. But instead, it seems to have magnified them! It seems to me that Portland is more “Portland” now than it was when I moved here 25 years ago!

  76. WordPress.com did the same thing to me a while back. No notification. No response. Just a TOS violation notice on the page when I tried to go to my blog. Nice of them to broadcast the TOS violation (whatever it was I can only guess) to all of my previous readers. I tried to contact their support and never got a response. Shameful.

    Luckily, Google had cached almost all of my blog (this was before WordPress.com had backup abilities) and I restored it to a self hosted WordPress blog and made thousands of more dollars than I was doing on WordPress.com So, it worked out, but was still shameful.

  77. Simply put I feel bigger and more intrusive government is never the answer. That being said the government already is involved if your friend chose to pursue the matter in Civil courts. I'm imagine a litigation firm looking for publicity would have taken his case on in a heartbeat.

  78. Sorry, buddy. I have to disagree with you there. They are NOT utilities. They are programs, plain and simple. Just like 'relying' on Norton to keep your network safe or Chrome to surf with, they are programs with their own, inherent risks. The fact that SOME businesses now rely on these programs is their own fault.

    Facebook and Twitter are passing fads that will die away as soon as the next, big thing hits the web. They are owned companies. They can do what they want. If you don't like it, stop using them and/or start one of your own. That's called 'free enterprise', a concept that keeps the government out of our lives and lets you be successful. All additional government oversight will do is cause the same problems for different reasons.

  79. I have had my account suspended without warning, notice or explanation before too. I tried complaining, raising some support, even starting a petition, but with my 12,0000 followers I'm no celeb, so nobody made a fuss about it like with @Scobleizer. Had somebody listened then, maybe @Scobleizer and some other suspended Twitterers would be tweeting right now.

    I've been saying for a long time that Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social sites have way too much power and not enough accountability. Yes, they are their companies, but with hosting social platforms comes social responsibility.

  80. You are right Chris.It happens several times with many people.But when there is a will,there is a way also and that is what you did.You have to go to BBB.org and wait for it if you want reinstate your account.