The #nbcfail isn't about email addresses, it's about corporate cronyism

Twitter needs to be clear if they have bent the rules for their commercial partners.

The question Twitter has to answer after suspending the Independent's Guy Adams isn't the narrow one about public versus private email addresses, but the broader one about how it plans to treat its commercial partners.

Adams tweeted the work email address of NBC executive Gary Zenkel, encouraging his followers to complain about the fact that the channel was showing the biggest events, like the opening ceremony and the 400m individual medley in which Michael Phelps was expected to (but didn't) medal, on a time delay.

Adams himself points out that it's contentious as to whether he even breached Twitter's guidelines to do so:

Twitter's guidelines forbid users from publishing what they call "private" information, including "private email addresses". There is plenty of sense in this. But I did not Tweet a private email address. I Tweeted a corporate address for Mr Zenkel, which is widely listed online, and is identical in form to that of tens of thousands of those at NBC.

Much of the debate surrounding the suspension has focused on whether a corporate email address, which is easy to work out but not actually made public by NBC or Zenkel, counts as a "public" or "private" email address. But that distinction is largely irrelevent; Twitter is perfectly within its rights to suspend Adams pending investigation, and as the debate shows, the case is unclear enough that it could be a genuine belief that the tweet breaks the terms of service.

The real concern should be when the story is combined with the knowledge that NBC and Twitter are in a massive, Olympics related, partnership:

Twitter and NBC are set to team up to provide an official hub page for the London Olympics, with the microblogging service serving as an "official narrator" of the Games. . .

Neither party is paying for the privilege, but Twitter reportedly sees it as a golden opportunity to expand its audience beyond the current 140 million monthly users, with vice president of media Chloe Sladden calling it "a way for new users to sample Twitter."

The question Twitter has to answer is whether they acted differently in the case of Zenkler/Adams because of this partnership. And based on news reports this morning, the situation doesn't look good. The Telegraph's Amy Willis reports:

In an email to The Daily Telegraph, Christopher McCloskey, NBC Sport’s vice-president of communications, said Twitter had actually contacted the network’s social media department to alert them to Mr Adam’s tweets. “Our social media dept was actually alerted to it by Twitter and then we filled out the form and submitted it,” he wrote. An email asking for further detail and whether this was normal Twitter policy was not returned from NBC or Twitter.

With this story hot on the heels of Twitter's clampdown against Instagram, it is clearer than ever that the service has reached a turning point in its maturation. The company no longer wants to be the communication network it has been treated as since its conception, now that it knows the real money is in the media. The challenge will be if it can make that leap without alienating its users.

Douchebag Twitter.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation