Twitter Didn't Have to Ban a User for Posting an Olympic GIF, But It Did Anyway

Twitter Didn't Have to Ban a User for Posting an Olympic GIF, But It Did Anyway
Image credit: Ronald Martinez / Staff | Getty Images

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This article originally published Aug. 25, 2016.

Update: Twitter restored @JimMWeber's account access eight hours and 22 minutes after "permanently suspending" him. Check out what the company wrote to him in the tweet below.

Original article follows:

When @JimMWeber posted a GIF of Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s floor routine, he thought Twitter might track down the tweet and delete it, but he never expected he’d find himself banned from the service.

“I noticed something was wrong on Saturday night when I attempted to tweet about the upcoming college football season but my iPhone notified me that my tweet was not sent because I had been suspended,” Weber writes in a post on LinkedIn.

Throughout the past two weeks, Weber, a sports journalist, had tweeted two other GIFs of Olympic athletes. He received an email from Twitter Support on Aug. 20 explaining that he had posted material copyrighted by the International Olympic Committee without authorization.

Related: Why Riding the #Rio2016 Wave Could Land Your Business in Legal Trouble

“Twitter has received multiple, compliant DMCA takedown notices for content posted to your Twitter account,” the email read. “As a result, we’re temporarily suspending your account as a warning. If you’d like your account to be restored, please respond to this notice with confirmation that you understand Twitter’s Copyright Policy.” It included a link to the policy.

Weber explains that he wrote to Twitter several times requesting an update. Then, four days later, Twitter sent its verdict via faceless email: Weber’s account would be permanently suspended.

“Obviously, I wish I hadn't posted the GIFs,” Weber writes. “But I also feel like I'm being made an example of by Twitter. After all, you can still found illegal video and GIFs of her floor exercise on the Internet here, here, here and here -- just to name a few.”

While Weber did violate the IOC’s intellectual property rights, Twitter’s handling of the situation is puzzling. The company removed the viral GIF that user @JimmyDonofrio created juxtaposing video of Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky finishing ahead of her competitors with the beginning of the 1999 Santana and Rob Thomas song “Smooth” (highlighting that the time lapsed between Ledecky’s finish and the the rest of the swimmers’ arrival at the wall was equivalent for the time it takes for the song’s first lyric, “Man, it’s a hot one,” to play.) But Donofrio’s account is still active.

The IOC (and NBC, it’s exclusive broadcasting partner) completely misunderstand how people experience televised events today. People love to share GIFs and memes as a means to engage with programming. By preventing them from doing so, amid an online landscape saturated with other GIFs, these organizations demonstrate that they don’t get their audiences.

And when Twitter bans a user for an extremely common action, it sends the message that it doesn’t value its dedicated users. Without them, the flashiest partnerships in the world don’t mean anything.

“I understand Twitter is cozying up to organizations like the IOC as the platform tries to turn sports live streaming into a major part of its offering,” Weber writes, “and demonstrate that if an organization like the IOC says, ‘Jump,’ Twitter will reply ‘How high?’”

Related: What Businesses Should Know About Copyright and Twitter Use

By banning Weber, Twitter wanted to send the message that copyright infringement will not be tolerated. But the underlying truth comes through loud and clear:

“As idealistic as social media platforms make themselves sound, at the end of the day, they're just like every other business: The only thing they have to answer to is money,” Weber writes.

Money may be the bottom line, but you can’t make money if you extinguish your loyal user base.
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