Twitter Suspends Bay Area Journalist for Posting Public Documents

Monday, December 15, 2014

Twitter temporarily suspended the account of East Bay Express journalist Darwin BondGraham without discussion after he posted a public document about a company he was investigating and an employee complained.

BondGraham posted the material about Predictive Policing (PredPol), a company that contracts with law enforcement to supply controversial software for predicting where crime will occur, after receiving it from the city of Modesto via a California Public Records Act request.

In an exchange of tweets, PredPol’s Claire Lovell asked him to remove the information, claiming the document contained her home phone number.

That wasn’t true. It was her very public office phone number that she set up to ring at home. BondGraham refused to take down the posting and she complained to Twitter. Twitter wouldn’t talk to BondGraham and temporarily suspended the account, with a warning last Thursday that it would be permanently eviscerated if he didn’t take the post down.

Journalists make extensive use of Twitter and other social media to promote their work, communicate with the public and even report stories in real time.  

Later that day, PredPol reportedly emailed the East Bay Express that, upon review, it had decided BondGraham had done nothing wrong, apologized for its rogue employee’s behavior and said the reporter should be reinstated on Twitter. “An employee acted on her own initiative and not on the company's behalf,” marketing manager Benjamin Hoehn wrote the newspaper. “We regret that this happened and want to reiterate that PredPol fully encourages his reinstatement on Twitter.”

Unfortunately, Twitter didn’t agree. East Bay Express Associate Editor Robert Gammon started a Twitter campaign to get BondGraham reinstated and dozens of journalists and Twitter users retweeted the PredPol documents. Gammon said Twitter did not respond to his appeals to discuss the matter.

Finally, Geoffrey King, a lawyer and lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, successfully intervened on BondGraham’s behalf. King works with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a San Francisco-based independent non-profit organization that assists journalists and promotes press freedom worldwide.

BondGraham has been writing about PredPol for a few years. The Silicon Valley-backed startup sells software to law enforcement agencies that it says will prevent crime and save money by predicting where bad stuff will happen. It picked up $2.375 million in a July round of fund-raising and is one of the leading companies in the burgeoning industry.  

The program combines crime data, sociological and demographic information, and other resources to profile communities on a micro scale. BondGraham has written skeptically about the company’s claims of effectiveness, questioned their business practices and raised questions about the impact on civil liberties of giving the authorities access to big data for crime fighting.  

That kind of behavior would not, presumably, land him in the PredPol database or subject him to a special tweak of the company’s proprietary algorithm. The company maintains that its program targets locations, not people. Targeting people would be wrong. 

So, BondGraham is safe.

 –Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Twitter Suspends Journalist’s Account after He Publishes Public Document (by Yasha Levine and Paul Carr, Pando Daily)

An Express Reporter’s Twitter Nightmare (by Robert Gammon, East Bay Express)

All Tomorrow's Crimes: The Future of Policing Looks a Lot Like Good Branding  (by Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston, SF Weekly)

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