Twitter claims that court-ordered transparency put it "between a rock and a hard place."
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, speaking at the Online News Association's San Francisco conference, said that revealing Malcolm Harris' personal Tweets wasn't something Twitter wanted to do. The company, Costolo claimed, was caught "between a rock and a hard place" and reluctantly handed the data over under seal, with a plea that the seal not be removed until an appeal against the judge's ruling had been heard.
Costolo reiterated that Twitter "strongly believe[s] it's important for us to defend our users' right to protest the forced publication of their private information." Costolo said this was why Twitter had spent its own money and "top-level legal resources" to defend the Harris case, but when the judge threatened Twitter with a contempt order if it didn't comply, Twitter had no choice but to hand over the data.
"You have to balance what we're trying to achieve as an organization," said Costolo, "with respect for the rule of law." Now Twitter has to wait for the appeal to be heard, but it's not giving up on Harris' case yet.
When asked about Twitter's media role, Costolo was happy to describe Twitter as a media company "because we sell ads," but wasn't entirely comfortable with the thought of Twitter as - in the words of moderator Emily Bell - "dictating the biorhythm of free speech." He sees Twitter primarily as a platform, not as an actor in its own right.
"Publishers come to us," Costolo said, "type in their content and hit the Tweet button ... and that's the content we publish." Though willing to defend the Harris' of this world, and proud that Twitter had played a part in world events, Costolo would rather Twitter be a means of promoting free speech than to say anything itself.
An embedded feed of Costolo's full keynote can be found here.