A couple of weeks ago, we got into trouble. The headmaster’s sentence: Suspension.
To be specific, @thelamplatoon is the troublemaking party in question, and the headmaster is the multi-headed hydra of Twitter police who monitor for spam. During the VMAs on August 28th, we noticed on Twitter that a lot of people were tweeting about the latest Kia “Soul” commercial with hip-hop hamsters. It so happens that one of LAMPlatoon members made a video taking the hamsters to task as yet another milestone in the history of racist caricatures in youth-targeted animation:
And so, we wanted to start a dialogue with people who were talking about the most recent Kia hamster ad. Ultimately, @thelamplatoon contacted 65 Twitter users about the ad, asking what they thought about the idea that the ads may be offensive. As a result of our solicitations, Twitter suspended our account “for sending multiple unsolicited messages using the @reply and/or mention feature.”
Did we go overboard? Yep, and we regret it. There is no question that we were overzealous, and should have been more thoughtful.
Still, we have some questions regarding the clarity of Twitter policies. What number does Twitter mean when they say “multiple” and how are they differentiating between spam and conversation? We weren’t trying to sell anything–far from it. Perhaps ironically, we were trying to talk about potentially unethical marketing techniques, and only touched people who were already discussing the content in question. With an average of 1,350 unique tweets sent each minute, the number of tweets from @thelamplatoon over the course of five minutes make up a tiny fraction of the total number of tweets sent worldwide on a regular day. Plus, this was during the VMAs, when a record-breaking 8,868 tweets were sent each second. In that volume, how does Twitter determine that you’ve crossed a line? Does Twitter consider any kind of unsolicited outreach to be spam, and what does that mean for other activist campaigns working to address trending topics through Twitter?
Let’s be clear–we know we were wrong. Just because @thelamplatoon isn’t selling anything doesn’t mean it lacks the capacity to be annoying. We weren’t aware of the line between being annoying and being in violation of Twitter policy, because that line is not explicitly stated and Twitter offers no guidelines for what does and does not constitute spam. Any social media engine encouraging interactivity among users should clearly state acceptable and unacceptable behavior, especially when users have the ability contact others without their approval.
We learned the rules the hard way, with a slap on the wrist and a 20-day nap for @thelamplatoon. But we’re not the only ones with a lesson to learn.