Sunday, May 25, 2008

enforcing Terms of Service violations

If you provide Terms of Service (TOS), are you ethically or legally obligated to enforce them? Let's look at the Twitter TOS controversy, from a simple, common sense point of view.

Ariel Waldman is a Twitter user. She complained to Twitter about another user who was harassing her on Twitter. This was beyond mere disagreement or a casual "you're nuts" type comment. The harassment involved filthy language.

Twitter, not known for being open to user requests and suggestions, not only did not enforce their own Terms of Service. They also shamed the victim, whined about their small staff, and declared they were "offended" at the victim accusing them of not caring about users.

This is not the proper way for a company to respond.

Some relevant items from Twitter's Terms of Service (due to change soon):


4. You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.


Violation of any of these agreements will result in the termination of your account.

While prohibits such conduct and content on its site, you understand and agree that Twitter cannot be responsible for the Content posted on its web site and you nonetheless may be exposed to such materials and that you use the service at your own risk.

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

    We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party's intellectual property or these Terms of Use.


    Did Twitter stand true to their TOS, and account removal policy, in Ariel's case, or were they negligent?

    Here's the TOS / Ariel Waldman debate on the Twitter blog.

    More here: Summize archive re: Ariel.

    And here: Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service.

    It's not "mediating disputes between people" that's the issue here. It's enforcing your TOS.

    You decide if you like Twitter's tone and handling of this situation. Personally, I do not.


    Gavin Heaton said...

    I am with you on this one. If you are the person or company that aggregates a community, then you have no choice but to take a leadership role within that community. That means taking responsibility for boundaries and their inforcement.

    steven edward streight said...

    It's funny how many Twitter addicts are kissing Twitter's ass, with no concern about a fellow user's misfortune.

    And again, it's a female victim and irresponsible males who refuse to protect her.

    steven edward streight said...

    Gavin, Typepad gave me error message when I tried to post a comment at your blog post on this issue.

    Andrew Badera said...

    I'm amazed at what a flap this has turned into.

    If ToS were enforced to the letter across the board, the world would be a pretty crazy place.

    ToS are always open to interpretation, whether Ariel understands that or not. It's a matter of fact, it's a matter of case law. ToS are an implicit contract, like a shrinkwrap or clickwrap license -- hard to enforce, and leaving you wide open to litigation depending on how, when, where and against whom you enforce them.

    It's the Internet, Ariel needs to grow a thicker skin already. If this is truly an issue, take the offending user to court. Otherwise, let Twitter get on with the business of fixing their stability issues so the REST of the whiners can shut up already.

    steven edward streight said...

    Andrew, thanks for the comment. This is Twitter's problem, not mine. Hopefully they resolve the TOS issue, and overall user relations, for the future.

    Billy Dennis said...

    This is why I don't have a "terms of use" statement on my blogs, but an informal list of "rules" that simply describes the sorts of things that might get a comment deleted or a user banned.

    The flexibility works in my favor, and a culture is established that frowns on the bad behavior yet asks that other users don't get bent out of shape because their feathers are ruffled. Good rules to live by, IMHO.