Twitter drags feet on Gillard’s social media guidelines

Twitter is under fire from both the federal government and social media advocates, after dragging its feet in accepting new social media guidelines for handling customer complaints despite industry rivals already signing up.

But some experts say Twitter’s delay is understandable, as it doesn’t operate a local office.

Internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have been criticised for being extremely difficult to reach when customers have complaints or concerns. SmartCompany investigated the problem last year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has now said Twitter should follow Facebook’s lead in signing up to the guidelines, arguing “we need to see a further step forward”.

But experts note there could be viable reasons why Twitter hasn’t signed up yet. James Griffin, founder of SR7, says there are clear differences between what Twitter does and some of the other social networks – and that Twitter may feel it’s being lumped in with very different companies.

“The nuances between what Twitter does and Google Plus, or Facebook, are clear. It’s a modern day wire service, and I respect the fact they may feel drawn in to some debates.”

“On Facebook, kids can set up fake profiles and use it in school, whereas I think Twitter is a slightly different service, in terms of how people use it and so on. You can’t just lump social media in one basket.”

“I think they’re wary of that.”

Griffin says if this initiative had begun later in the year, after Twitter had opened its Australian office, a conversation with the government would have been more difficult to avoid.

There may even be a financial reason for why Twitter has avoided joining the guidelines. Michael Simonetti, founder and director of digital agency Andmine, says Facebook, LinkedIn and Google have joined because they’ve set up shop here already.

Twitter, on the other hand, hasn’t established a base here and doesn’t even have a comprehensive revenue model. He says Twitter may be hesitant about being pushed into an agreement with other social networks when it does not operate a local base.

“Because these companies have stronger revenue models, and a local office, they may be quicker to act. Twitter, without that, could be a little slower.”

The new guidelines were developed in response to a report from the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, and come amid a renewed push to stop cyber-bullying.

“I think this is a step forward by these giants of social media,” Julia Gillard said yesterday.

The fact tech companies can be extremely hard to contact made the situation even worse, which is why the guidelines include a provision for a specific point of contact for government authorities.

The issue of faceless tech companies was also highlighted last year during a Senate inquiry into prices within the information technology market. Several companies didn’t make public appearances, exacerbating the mysterious reputation of the industry’s largest players.

But as James Griffin explains, the situation is improving – the government is in discussions with Twitter.

“I think the key message here is that you can’t hide anymore and use the tyranny of distance. You just have to make it easier for authorities to deal with you.”



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