Twitter suspension shows risks for communicators on Twitter


Alastair Smith, Newcastle City Council

The recent and continuing suspension of Alastair Smith (Newcastle City Council‘s web 2.0 communications advisor) from Twitter highlights a real risk for organisations using social media platforms as part of their communications strategies.

Commercial services, like Twitter, can decide the rules for who can and can’t use their platforms – usually with the best of intentions to stop spam usage, but sometimes automated systems can cause problems and if these aren’t resolved organisations could find themselves without access to a key part of their online communications armoury.

In emails with Alastair he’s told me more about what has happened:

So Al, what happened to your Twitter account?

I’m not entirely sure really. On Thursday afternoon I was trying to reply to a tweet about plings data being used to power an app in Bebo called the Boredometer. It’s in public BETA and was looking to highlight it through the council’s Twitter feed (@NewcastleCC). My updates weren’t appearing and I then got an error message telling me my account had been suspended. The message came and went and I had intermittent access to direct messaging until it became clear that the plug had well and truly been pulled.

What have you done to try to get your account re-enabled?

I tried to report the issue online, but Twitter’s “zendesk” system is blocked by our firewall. Instead I followed the instructions and emailed Twitter. At the weekend I used zendesk to register it as it said no support tickets were registered on my account and I could not check progress.

Do you know why Twitter have blocked you?

No. Twitter sent me an auto reply to my email with standard reasons for suspension, the content is as follows:

User Abuse

  • a large number of people block the profile or write in with spam complaints
  • aggressive following
  • imbalanced ratio: the number of followers is small compared to number of people following
  • misuse of the reply feature
  • updates consist of duplicate links and/or text
  • updates consist mainly of links and not personal updates
  • updates consist of updates poached from others’ timelines, passed off as one’s own

Technical Abuse

  • updates consist of links pointing to phishing sites, malware, or other harmful material
  • a large number of accounts is created in a short amount of time
  • an account is identified as belonging to a spam cluster

I would dispute all of the above and replied to the email to say as much. The standard email said that investigation of the above could take up to 30 days. I have yet to receive any further communication from Twitter.

Do you think you could have done anything that could have been interpreted as spam?

No. I’m very careful in what I use Twitter for as I use it as a work tool and am aware that if I can use it in a way that is beneficial to my employer I can create a business case for the extension of access to others in the organisation.

What would you say to other council staff for whom Twitter has become a day-to-day tool for doing their jobs?

A similar thing happened to another local government employee the day before I was blocked. His situation was resolved within 40 minutes, and I thought mine would be resolved in a similar timescale. My advice would be that you need a back up or reserve account to inform others of your circumstances. If it does last 30 days it will be very inconvenient, but it is not the end of the world.

If this had happened to one of the council’s main communication channels it may have been a different situation. I applied for ‘Verified Account’ status for our main account a couple of weeks ago and would advise others to do the same so that their main channels are unaffected.

What can councils do to protect themselves from this sort of problem?

Other than the above it would be useful if Twitter could look at the way it deals with large organisations, can workplace contacts be appointed to liaise between the two? It is also best practice to make sure people know the reasons that Twitter use to suspend accounts so that work accounts are not suspended for a legitimate breach.

How can people support you to get your account re-enabled?

People can visit and post a tweet from there to sign an online petition to Twitter support. We’re also using the hashtag #freealncl.