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I’m offended

Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service

I've had an appallingly bad experience with Twitter's lack of community management. Please read this post for a summary of what I went through:

http://arielwaldman.com/2008/05/22/tw...

I think it's extremely important for Twitter to develop policies around their Terms of Service to stick by. In short, it's completely unacceptable for Twitter's users to be harassed to this level and have Twitter refuse to ban anyone for fear of being sued. Yahoo, Flickr, Pownce, and Digg do *not* take these kinds of TOS violations lightly and will ban users/content if there is even a question of harassment.

In fact, I would like to call out that Twitter can't be sued for banning users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_...

As my lawyer wrote to me:
"It basically insulates any interactive computer service from liability for the postings of any of its users and gives it complete immunity anytime it removes user content because it is offensive. In fact, Section 230(c)(2) says expressly that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected."

This pretty clearly shields them from liability for removing posts and users who tweet offensive or harassing messages. Moreover, their own TOS says:

"We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason at any time."

Thus, legally, they are pretty much entitled to kill any account they want for any reason and there's not much legally anyone can do about it."
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  • I hope they get on the ball with this.

    One question, though, what are Twitter's abilities to completely freeze out a user? (Not that they shouldn't try...)
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  • I would think they could block an IP address if they wanted. That would really mess someone up.
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    • Sorry Britney, but with DHCP that could block the next user who inherits the offending IP address from their mutual ISP. Besides, I don't think it was a technical problem, rather, a fear of legal reprisal on Twitter's part...
    • hey Britney and Sweet Mercury. what you are talking about is covered by U.S. law. It is just difficult to convince twitter that they are liable. I would like to see a judicial forum because twitters problem is that it hides behind logic loopholes and fails to understand that harassment is not able to be dissected like a science. Some people call me a harasser, like Kosso and his girl, but it now seems he has done his share. Maybe you don't agree... Exactly my point! A community forum like this is nice, but we need a higher judge to administrate. The worst thing is that situations like my own with panopticons are left in doubt. I was getting harassed myself for being Jewish and a supporter of Israel and U.S. troops. I felt I had to take matters into my own hands because twitter would not do anything. If twitter wants there to be another panopticons situation, they will continue to put their head in the sand. Till that point, I will take any "Terms" claim they have very lightly because the only breach they recognize is an architectural one. This is a breeding ground for tyranny.
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  • I’m offended also
    I hope that you're status in the tech industry will bring issues like this into a more public focus.

    Good luck in ridding yourself of this spiteful stalker.
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  • I’m upset
    Twitter needs to protect it's users! Ariel should be thanked for her patience, not punished with this run-around.

    It could me or you next.
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  • I’m frustrated
    Bit disappointed here. I sent a long comment to the original article mentioned at the top (through the link).
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  • I’m pissed.
    What a lame, weak, and otherwise limp-wristed approach twitter has taken to solving this problem.

    TERRIBLE example you are setting, twitter. Just terrible.

    Jack, if you're listening, you need to buck up and take control here. Otherwise, you are clearly not fit to run that company. It is *directly* your responsibility to ensure that this kind of crap doesn't continue to happen on your company's site, and any sort of apathy to this situation shows a distinct lack of leadership on your part.

    Boo!

    Digg this thread! Click on the Digg link at the upper right corner of the thread in the "Share" box. People need to see this.
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  • I’m mad as hell!
    This has got to be one of the lamest moments in recent memory. To sign up for the service you have to agree to the TOS. Everyone seems to get this except Twitter.

    Also, out of all the companies you mentioned that don't hesitate to ban people, how many of them have been sued? I can't say for sure but my guess is zero.
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  • I’m upset
    As a support veteran, I can momentarily sympathize with a front-line support person backing away from the heat of this kind of thing. However, when a company as small as Twitter (~15 people) who purport to have a lawyer at their disposal responds to this kind of thing with a promise to rewrite their rules so that they need do nothing, it becomes very worrisome.

    What will probably happen is that Twitter will sooner or later be required to generate a normal ToS, but maybe not under the pressure of this case.
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  • I’m sad
    Over the past year it seems to me twitter only cares about 3 things....

    #1 Raising VC capital
    #2 Raising VC capital
    #3 Raising VC capital

    The hell with enforcing their TOS or keeping the service online.
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  • I’m dissapointed
    Wow, what a lame, useless response from Twitter, a service that I love. I hope they get off their lazy bums and get themselves some community managers who actually actively manage the community and act in accordance with their own TOS.
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  • I’m wary.
    I sympathize and hope that you see a swift resolution to this issue. Pseudonymity has its price, but if Twitter cannot be bothered to, at the _least_, abide by the terms of their own TOS, I cannot be bothered to continue on with their service.

    If Twitter proves themselves as spineless as your correspondence indicates, I'll leave the service, and suggest to my friends that they do the same.

    I hope Twitter proves me wrong.
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  • I’m disappointed
    Ouch. I'll be following this and hope to see Twitter resolve this soon.
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  • I’m frustrated
    I'm at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference where there are discussions about how best to deal with Cyberbullying. I expect that Twitter may be examined as a way not to deal with Cyberbullying
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  • I’m so many things, but primarily sad & disappointed.
    Banning a user is not an easy call to make. We know, we banned our first this week. But there are times when, for the health of the greater community, it has to be done. As community managers we can not and should not allow our members to suffer such persistent and malicious harassment via our services. It poisons the water from which we are all drinking.

    Ariel, I hope you get a more satisfying resolution soon.
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  • I’m sad, confused and frustrated
    I blogged about this and now the article's on Techmeme ... hopefully this will end up with a resolution soon :)
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  • I’m dissapointed
    It's just wrong that they refuse to do anything about it. If this type of behavior continues I'll be leaving the service.
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  • I’m frustrated
    Wow, talk about a complete neglect of responsibility (and possibly liability?) on Twitter's part. There really should be any hesitation on their part as to how to handle this. Unbelievable. I hope they come to their senses soon.
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  • I’m very disappointed
    This is awful. The TOS as it stands is completely justified and those users should be banned. I've been a part of other communities (Newsvine being the biggest one) where warning and then banning for these issues is common practice.
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  • I’m disappointed
    Well, they can either get sued for acting on their TOS, or for NOT acting on their TOS. Point is, you don't get to decide whether you get sued or not, but you do get to do what's right by your users. I really hope they change their act on this.
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  • In addition to working on scaling our technology, we also have to work on scaling on policies and terms. The existing terms are, as noted, inspired by those used by other services. And through them we reserve the right to take action against many different types of content issues.

    But in practice, we only act in specific circumstances. (Some of this has been posted before).

    For this reason, we're in the process of reworking the existing terms to reflect what we enforce.

    What we believe is that Twitter is a recipient-driven utility; you choose what content appears in your timeline. We offer tools like block so that users can distance themselves from others with whom they have disputes or disagreements.

    As a communication utility, Twitter does not get involved in these disputes between users over issues of content except in limited circumstances. Twitter is a provider of information, not a mediator. Specific physical threats, certain legal obligations, privacy breaches of specific types of information (e.g. SSN, credit cards), and misleading impersonation are some cases where we may become involved and potentially terminate an account.

    Overall, we hold ourselves responsible for building tools that allow our users to control their own experience. Twitter is not a judge for resolving disputes over most content issues—our focus is on providing a service.
    • view 24 more comments
    • The issue I see here is that, while a user may block this person from their personal timeline, potential employers and other people searching your name will not have this person blocked. The damage comes not from seeing them yourself, but from having others see it. Your policy solves nothing as far as this is concerned.

      As for fear of lawsuits, there is just as likely a chance, if not a larger one, that you will be sued eventually from the other side. This is to say, a user who knows what your terms of service promise may sue you for not taking action to protect their reputation from potential employers, or even other Twitter viewers, from seeing these harassing statements online despite a TOS statement that promises action.
    • I understand the backlash that most people have been placing on Twitter, but I have to say that even given the verbage, rants and words that were used from one Twitter user to another, I see why Twitter isn't "reacting" as everyone would want them to. As Jason said above, Twitter is not in the business of content moderation. It's not a private forum. Sure, the TOS can be interpreted to support just about everything. There are tons of people that are offended by the word "fuck", yet that word gets tossed around thousands of times a day in various twitter posts. People shout "fuck you" to others a lot, without nary a threat or a banning. I really don't want to see a trend where Twitter becomes too much of a big brother entity, where the term "ambulance chaser" gets applied to anyone that deems another Twitter post a threat. I feel bad that Ariel had to go through this and anyone that slandered or threatened her needs to stop. But I also don't want to see Twitter turned into a mass of "that person called me a name" complaints that have the higher ups enforcing each and every post.
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  • I’m disappointed and surprised
    I'm really surprised that Twitter would take this stance. Why on earth are they afraid of a lawsuit? Use of twitter isn't a right; kicking someone off after repeated, documented instances of harassment is fully justifiable.

    Booo, twitter.
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  • I’m confused.
    I and others had a similar issue with Twitter. (See 'is panopticons violating Twitter's TOS?' here on Get Satisfaction!)

    Unfortunately, Twitter will keep its crowd of early adopters despite all of this. Going forward, Twitter won't be viable for widespread 'tipping point' adoption levels due to their lack of features, including the non-policing (please see my blog post http://www.purplecar.net/2008/05/19/u....

    I truly can't imagine Twitter has any valid arguments against showing their community that there are, at the very least, minimal efforts to protect it. Is Twitter's exit strategy approaching on their timeline? I ask because they clearly don't care about their community and have little insight into the future of the application. Twitter's staff is unprepared and unwilling to play in the big leagues with Flickr and other services that have found their way into the mainstream. Who ARE these people who invested in this last round? What is the real story here?
    • All these problems just keep people moving to FriendFeed. So no, Twitter hasn't won yet. Let's hope FriendFeed takes its own TOS seriously!
    • FriendFeed can't take it's own TOS seriously, if I post something bad on Twitter and it gets pulled into FriendFeed, or something that Twitter thinks is OK and FriendFeed doesn't, is it the fault of FriendFeed for pulling everything from twitter automatically and not using a filter, or is it the fault of Twitter for not having a TOS compatible with FriendFeed?
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  • I’m alienated
    Jason: Wow.

    Physical threats against a user and Twitter *may* get involved?

    Repeated verbal attacks by one person upon another you call a "dispute"?

    Again: Wow. This completely alters my whole view of Twitter. I don't think that I can trust a company that takes this attitude toward online abuse.
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  • I’m pissed off.
    Really Twitter? This is just wrong, you can't get sued for banning someone that agreed to the rules you established, honestly, thats just silly.

    You, as a company, need to step up, and do something about this, or your going to lose a whole lot of users, including myself.

    -Nick
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  • I’m disappointed
    It is mind-boggling that Twitter offers these great communication tools, starts to get a real community going and yet acts irresponsibly in not protecting its users.

    When the situation is brought to their attention, instead of taking appropriate actions in removing the cause of the problem, their only response is to protect themselves by updating their TOS. Wow.

    The way I perceive Twitter has definitely been taken a turn for the worse and I'm questioning whether this is where I want to be.
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  • I’m just wishing we could all get along...
    1
    I think I understand the message that Jason is trying to convey. I strongly agree that Twitter should modify their TOS to match their company philosophy. However I would still like to play devil's advocate for a moment...

    If someone wrote you a letter that would be considered "hate mail" would you sue or take action against the company that manufactured the paper? What about the service that delivered that message to you? (for example, the USPS or FedEx.)

    Twitter is an open canvas. They manage the structure that supports that canvas and it's availability. The USER controls what appears on that canvas.

    That being said, let's just take computers away from all mean people. Then we wouldn't have to worry about cyber-bullying and computer viruses. Right? ;-)
    • view 8 more comments
    • It's dumb to compare Twitter to a post office and hate mail. The internet is something that can be cached, that can be searched. Public harassment on the internet is something that can damage a person's reputation, because it can easily be found. Many companies search the names of applicants on the internet. Depending on the future boss or the type of job, these things can become a problem, and with the full name included in this harassing tweets, finding this stuff isn't that difficult.
      Also, hate mail is very different from stalking.
      As long as they have their old TOS in place, they have to act according to them. They can change their policy after they changed the TOS, but until then, they have to take their TOS seriously, so that any TOS they have can be taken seriously.

      Oh, and an important thing here is: Nobody's shooting the messenger here. Twitter is not criticized for offering the stalker a platform, they're not criticized for the very existence of the stalker in their system. They're criticized for not banning him, even though their TOS tell them to do so. This is very different from what you're saying.
    • A letter delivered personal is private communication and doesn't publicly defame the harrassee. It would be smarter to say "would you sue the billboard company that plastered those things about you publicly, using your full name?"
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  • @Jen F - no, you wouldn't sue FedEx. But the document that's delivered by mail is only seen by you. Twitter is public. Would the newspaper USA Today allow someone to publish insults or hate mail against an individual, and if they did (which I highly doubt) would the target be in the right to ask USA Today to stop publishing them?
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    • @zchamu Maybe, but I still contend that once the information is out there, it's permanent. And retractions are buried so deep that most people wouldn't notice while the false information is posted on office bulletin boards for all time.
    • @Jen F: If the messenger has a rule that states their service can't be used to send hate mail and they knowingly deliver the hate mail anyway, then yes, we do shoot the messenger.
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  • I’m debutaunt
    Honestly, the name calling... meh, but using her full name online, posting her email, etc etc.

    Besides, Twitter employee dude, did you *see* the harassing profile? It's mostly spam. Get rid of it. And for the 753 people following the dude, unfollow if you are all twisted panties about it.
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  • I’m pissed
    1
    Revising the TOS is not the answer. We want Twitter to uphold basic, decent community principles: if someone in the community is being harassed, Twitter should act immediately with a warning to the harasser, then a follow-up, and if it continues, ban them. We're all passionate about Twitter but that's because we believed this was a community, not a bureaucracy where you'll change your TOS rather than do the right thing and protect your users.

    Would you have the same response to this issue if the harassment was being made against one of your own staff?
    • view 3 more comments
    • @emilychang You are assuming that all people care about decency. They don't. A bully doesn't bully because they are a decent person. And that is basically what this issue boils down to... bullies.
    • Bravo Emily. It strikes me that online society is now dealing with what real society has built up lots of safety measures against. If someone stood out on a public street in front of your home screaming obcenities your direction free speech would not keep the neighbors from calling the authorities and it would not stop the authorities from taking action.
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  • I’m disappointed.
    Bad call Twitter. GetSatisfaction was faced with a similar difficult decision and clearly took it more seriously: http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2008/...
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  • I’m in the mood for dancing
    "If someone wrote you a letter that would be considered "hate mail" would you sue or take action against the company that manufactured the paper? What about the service that delivered that message to you? (for example, the USPS or FedEx.)"

    Your analogy is wrong on so many levels. If someone went on TV and publically slandered me, then yes I would be contacting the TV station to issue a retraction. If a website posted an article calling me all kinds of names, even if it was user driven like Twitter is, then I'd be getting in touch with said site and telling them to remove the content.

    It isn't Twitters responsibility to solve the problem, but it is Twitters responsibility to remove things when people have valid complaints about them, even if they know that person is only going to make a new account and do it all over again.
    • view 6 more comments
    • @tsanth umm... you're welcome? :-D but i am confused by your response. do you really think most people believe everything they see on the web? ;-)
    • @JenF Not at all, but as mentioned in other people's responses, I would hate to have my reputation with a potential employer marred by even a whiff of slander or libel from an enemy's tweet. To be somewhat misanthropic (though I prefer "realistic"): I trust myself to filter, but I don't trust everyone else to do the same.
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  • I’m hacked off.
    I'm with emilychang here, revise the TOS and take a bit more responsibility for policing the community on Twitter. This kind of thing isn't acceptable in RL (despite freedom of speech) and shouldn't be acceptable on Twitter.

    Hell, even if you don't use the harassment as a valid reason to ban this guy, I'm sure you could find some other reason. Spam?!?! Hellooo... You can only take policy so far, some times you need to do what's decent and right. In this case that would be banning this guy.
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  • I’m frustrated
    This silence from Twitter is overwhelming. The issue to them is closed. We're all just whiners and complainers to them now, with nothing credible to say. We don't know anything, we just use the (sometimes working) service.

    Since their is no getting through to them at this point (why have one of these getsatisfaction accounts anyway, if you just plan to use it to rationalize poor judgment?), and the issue is closed, let's start a subtopic:

    What are some alternatives to Twitter?
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  • I’m flabbergasted
    How Twitter (who ultimately is a service built by and for human beings) can reply in such a manner by totally dismissing the situation is beyond me. So Twitter may be involved in the case of physical threat (outside of Twitter's influence boundaries), but will not intervene when someone uses their service to harass someone else? How stupid is that?
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  • I’m angry, disappointed
    @Jason:
    "As a communication utility, Twitter does not get involved in these disputes between users over issues of content except in limited circumstances. Twitter is a provider of information, not a mediator. Specific physical threats, certain legal obligations, privacy breaches of specific types of information (e.g. SSN, credit cards), and misleading impersonation are some cases where we may become involved and potentially terminate an account."

    Would you care to explain to the community how publicly calling someone a "c---" over your network or displaying their full name when the user otherwise did not disclose it did not violate these terms?

    You're not being asked to mediate a bickering session between two users, you're being asked:
    1. To protect your users from undue harassment the way you can, by preventing it over your domain/network.
    2. To UPHOLD YOUR TOS.
    3. To place the happiness and possible safety of your users over your fear of a lawsuit.
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  • I’m frustrated
    In support...cmon twitter, get it together man. No one should have to go through this.
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  • I’m surprised
    Who wants a hug? free! I wont sue you if you say no!
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  • I’m outraged
    Your response to this issue strikes me as the response of a business that is reluctantly realizing you are a social network. You're a community site, yes, but what kind of a community do you want to build? A community where concepts like common human decency aren't enforced? Keep this up and a year from now the only people paying attention to your pages will be SEO spammers and marketers, since no decent person will want to expose themselves to this kind of risk.

    "Block the user." Fine. Whatever. Perhaps you should consider the track command OBSERVE YOUR BLOCK RULES? Or does your lack of harassment enforcement extend to harassed users getting reduced functionality, too, since they'll need to stop using certain features?

    What kind of community are you looking to build, twitter? I hear nothing but "scaling scaling scaling" out of your mouth, but there is more to building a business than making a web site scale. Keep this up and you won't have to worry about scaling anymore.

    I am actively discouraging anyone from further adopting twitter until this gets resolved to Ariel's satisfaction...then I *might* consider changing my stance. You put your fear of getting sued over loyalty to your good users. That isn't a way of encouraging community support.
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  • I’m taking cover?
    Twitter should take actions, not taking cover.
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  • 1
    Twitter's response to this problem fails to protect them from the evils they claim they want to avoid, in ways that make them appear unprincipled or incompetent. Here's why:

    Twitter's response is neither practical, nor in Twitter's best interest. Under the TOS the kind of activity complained about is clearly prohibited. Twitter is probably wrong if they think that a user could prevail by arguing the things done were not "abusive" or "harassing." Additionally, the use of the word "cunt" should probably be considered "obscene" and prohibited by GC 4.

    Twitter holds all the cards. It's own TOS give Twitter the right to ban the user. (GC 3. Twitter could remove the offensive content. (GC 4.) The problem is, Twitter has "sole discretion" to do these things, but exempts itself from any duty to do them. (GC 4.)

    Additionally, as others have pointed out, they may rely on the CDA if sued. (Although I am not aware of any provisions in the CDA that allow them to escape liability for failing to remove content.)

    Twitter's claims that it fears a lawsuit seem disingenuous, at best. Sure, the obnoxious user could sue Twitter. He or she would probably lose. But first, Twitter's tolerance breeds contempt for its own rules, which it appears it won't enforce, and will probably result in further problems. Second, and perhaps more troubling to Twitter, Ariel might sue them. She might not win, either, but Twitter's less concerned about winning in court than it is about being sued in the first place.

    So, Twitter fails to recognize that its position doesn't really protect them at all from the thing they claim to be concerned about. And since they probably know their position is nonsensical, it makes Twitter look as though they are acting in bad faith or, worse, dishonestly.

    Additionally, since Twitter's TOS apparently confers no rights on users whatsoever, its agreement appears to be illusory in ways that might fail to provide them with legal protections.

    Since Twitter gets no real protection from a lawsuit on either side of the equation (even though it may be likely to ultimately prevail), it's hard to see why Twitter would choose to protect someone who abuses their service, except for the business reason that they lack the technical capacity or staff ability to effectively enforce their own TOS. Most likely, these problems are economic (it would cost too much).

    I can't blame Twitter from attempting to conceal its incompetence or apparent lack of technical ability. But that just makes Twitter seem unprincipled in ways that are likely to alienate users and, ultimately, investors.
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  • I’m angry
    A TOS isn't just there so a company can do a CYO. It's a contract with the users over expectations. If you fail to uphold those expectations, no one will respect you, and your word will mean nothing from that point onward.
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  • I’m frustrated
    And now the lawyers run Twitter, too.

    Hmmm... Maybe we should all do constant tweets saying the same things about Jason?
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  • I’m debutaunt and I approved of this reply
    I found @ev 's response to this in a tweet was interesting.
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  • I’m thinking about flaking out on twitter
    I've seen more outrage on this TOS issue than I have on all TechCrunch posts regarding uptime combined. We will tolerate flaky service, but we will obviously not tolerate flaky community enforcement.
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  • I’m disappointed and bewildered
    very disappointed ... !!! thought Twitter was aiming to be people-friendly, and take such complaints seriously....
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  • I’m saddened and pissed
    Just think how this would play out in the news on TV. "Twitter allows user to be harassed by Stalker and does nothing about it". These things can escalate. Usually when we hear publicly about someone's stalker problem it is because it has gone too far and someone (usually the stalky) gets hurt. COME ON TWITTER - DO THE RIGHT THING ! ! !
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  • I’m angry
    So, Jason. I could open a twitter account and start to harass you or other people, searchable by google because you (or whomever I’d like to harass) could just not follow me?

    You are setting wrong signals here!

    Harassment in any form or shape has to be penalised. I’m a heavy twitter user (10,800 tweets) and I’m concerned that twitter let this happen. No one should be harassed on a service like yours for more than a year without you acting. This destroys trust and community. If that’s your aim: Well done.
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  • I’m concerned
    I disagree with the notion that Twitter has recognized the issue and "apologized" on their way to fixing it. The only 'sorry' has been 'sorry you thought we'd abide by the terms you signed up under'. And their recognition has been along the lines of 'we interpret that text differently [than you and the other services we borrowed it from] and don't care to discuss it any further'.

    PS - debutaunt, I believe Ev's tweet was in regards to a different issue (scaling and armchair programmers giving advice pulled straight out of their bums).
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