UPDATE: City Paper Is Out of Twitter Jail

The trigger-happy online police can wreak havoc on a news operation.


UPDATE: After more than 24 hours on some sort of Twitter spam list, the City Paper‘s Twitter operations are now back to normal.

ORIGINAL: Like almost all news organizations these days, Philadelphia’s City Paper relies heavily on its social media presence to get eyes on its stories, which, in many cases, expose societal ills and evils. The alt-weekly has over 26,500 followers on Twitter. But since Wednesday morning, the newspaper has had problems sharing stories there.

The City Paper‘s Twitter account is not blocked, but Twitter has apparently determined that the newspaper’s URL (which I won’t share in this story for fear of Twitter finding guilt-by-association) is somehow problematic and in violation of Twitter’s policies, which is patently absurd considering some of the things that are out there on Twitter.

If you try clicking on any City Paper link via their Twitter feed, you get that ominous message above. Now, you could ignore Twitter’s warning and click on that barely visible link in the bottom right-hand corner. But your average reader isn’t going to do that, of course.

And if you try tweeting any City Paper content yourself with the URL, Twitter won’t let you. You’ll get the following message:

“Oops! A URL in your Tweet appears to link to a page that has spammy or unsafe content.”

On Wednesday, Daniel Denvir, City Paper‘s hardest-hitting reporter, explained via his own Twitter account that he was set to launch a major project “collecting stories of budget crisis impact on schools” but couldn’t because of the problem. After 16 hours of what he’s labeling an “outage” (and, effectively, it is), he called the situation “absurd and damaging.”

Denvir tells me that he’s now set to publish an article about sexual assault ruling and a judge who is up for a retention vote on Election Day. “It’s really going to dampen the impact of this story if I can’t get it moving on Twitter,” he says. “That’s how people see most of my work. I imagine that a lot more people read our work via Facebook and Twitter than by going to our website and saying, ‘Let’s see what’s happening on [the site name] today.'”

The paper has availed itself of Twitter’s only proffered recourse: an online appeal form. Maybe someone has read it. Maybe they haven’t. Maybe the issue hasn’t even seen a real live human being yet, instead lingering out there in the hands of some computer algorithm designed to make Twitter a better place.

It’s not the first time that social media and the real media have butted heads. One of the most prominent recent examples occurred during the 2012 Olympics, when Twitter temporarily banned a journalist who had been using the platform to heckle NBC for its coverage of the events, after NBC complained to Twitter. The Atlantic declared that Twitter’s “misstep reveals that the company doesn’t understand its outsized role in the media ecosystem.”

The Facebook police have also banned plenty of journalists over the years. Last year, Facebook banned a gay journalist who had posted this anti-Chick-fil-A ad containing the word “fag” in the wake of the homophobic fast-food company’s PR disaster:


And the same day that the City Paper began having Twitter problems, I was, coincidentally, banned from Facebook temporarily after Facebook ridiculously found some language I used to be abusive. (Read this fascinating new article in The Daily Beast that explores the strange world of the Facebook police, aka Facebook’s User Operations division, who decide who gets to stay and who has got to go.)

One thing’s for sure. Social media is an awesome tool that has, without exaggeration, changed the face of journalism forever. But when it starts working against you instead of for you, you realize just how awkwardly dependent on it you are.