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.
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.