I’d like you to imagine something for me.
Its a Thursday night and you’re up talking to your friends. You’ve had a great night and say goodnight to them, looking forward to chatting again in the morning.
The next morning, your world is thrown into turmoil. You wake up only to find that your contact with the outside world has been blocked. You’re not allowed to talk to any of your friends, and they can’t contact you. You have no idea why this has happened, and no-one will explain it. All you are told is that you might find out what has happened sometime in the next 30 days. You are cutoff from the outside world.
After three days of nothing you finally are told that you have been cutoff because you have made too many friends in too short a time, which is not allowed. You find out that you will be able to talk to your friends again, but only in a weeks time. You have no way to challenge this, and no-one who can assist. You are helpless.
The above story happened in the last week to someone I know. Jono Haysom, a colleague of mine at Telstra and an avid user of Twitter (@jonoh is his Twitter id) went to bed on Thursday night last week after chatting with his friends on Twitter, and woke up on Friday morning to find that his account was suspended. He had no idea why and when he contacted Twitter they responded with an auto-response email saying they would get back to him in 30 days. After much agitation, they eventually came back to him on Sunday and said he could re-apply to open up his account in 7 days time.
The reason they gave for suspending his account was that he had followed back too many people that had followed him in too short a time . That’s right, he followed people that were already following him! Apparently mass followings like this are a trait of spammers so he was blocked.
Besides this being grossly unfair, the bigger issue here is that as services like Twitter become more and more prevalent, and more and more of our communications with friends moves online, being cutoff from your social network for a lengthy period of time such as a week would be an extremely unsettling, frustrating and stressful situation for anyone, never mind a person who has done nothing wrong. If you extend that to a business environment, exclusion like this could affect a persons livelihood in a huge way, especially if the period was not say a week but a month or longer.
The fact is, the above could happen to anyone at any time, and nothing can be done about it. The administrators of services like Twitter have total control over who can and can’t use their service, and can kick someone off the service at anytime. There is no-one overseeing what they are doing, and no way to appeal against any of their decisions.
Ok, Jono was still able to use email and other services to talk to some of his friends with whom he had established relationships outside of Twitter, but one can easily imagine a time where all communication services are controlled by one group or organisation (look at Google Wave for an example of an integrated service which combines multiple communication mechanisms).
Imagine the power a group like that would wield then. Perhaps we should start thinking about that future and considering what checks and balances need to be put in place so that there is always a way to address an injustice such as what was inflicted on Jono.
Its scary when you think about it.
Update: Well its been a week since @jonoh was suspended and he still hasnt heard anything more back from them. He has sent 7 emails, many with the same response
“If you feel you’ve been suspended in error, please reply to this email with a short explanation if you haven’t already, and don’t forget to include your user name. We will do our best to get back to you within 30 days.”
This really is an indictment on Twitter and its error management processes . They had a loyal and high-volume user who I only ever saw promote the service, and they have totally disenfranchised him by cutting him off from the outside world.
Lets hope this doesnt start happening to more and more of us across social networking services as they try to crack down on the growing spam problem affecting their legitimate users.