Twitter made a surprising announcement that has the social media world buzzing. They announced that they would be censoring Tweets in certain countries, when requested to do so by officials in the specific country. In a public announcement they said:
“One year ago, we posted ‘The Tweets Must Flow,’ in which we said, “The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact … almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.”
As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.
Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.
We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page, http://chillingeffects.org/twitter, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.”
This week’s announcement has caused quite a reaction in the netosphere, especially given the huge impact that social media sites such as Twitter, played in the Arab Spring, with grassroots movements using social media as a springboard. Some quickly began to speculate that this move had something to do with the fact that it was merely a month ago that Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal invested $300 million in Twitter. Twitter users have already begun publicly speculating that the censorship was not so much an investment as it was a buy-off by Talal to avoid further revolutions in his region.
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Twitter has been quick to say that this whole situation is being largely blown out of proportion, with a member of the Twitter communication team, Jodi Olson, even scolding one reporter via email, saying “I saw your piece on our news today and wish you would have checked in with us for perspective on the story – your piece is inaccurate and misleading. What’s new today is that we now have the ability, when we have to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, to keep that Tweet visible for the rest of the world. We hold freedom of expression in high esteem and work hard not to remove Tweets.”
Is this all being blown out of proportion? It is a shame if this important tool gets cut off at the knees because Twitter is now capitulating to these regimes. On the other hand, the technology exists for these countries to completely block Twitter, so is this move really going to make a huge impact either way? Even if Twitter decided not to go forward with this policy, protesters could still lose their access to the social networking site should the country in which they reside decide to block them.
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We all saw how quickly the Arab protests moved, and surely social media played a large part, but was it all because of social media? Or had the time finally come for the people to speak out? And if that time has come, will shutting Twitter down to those parts of the world even matter? Or will they find other means by which to get their message across? Surely neither Twitter, or a government, can quiet the people of multiple countries once they decide to take a stand for themselves. So the question that is left: if Twitter’s actions cannot aid a country in silencing its people, is Twitter merely caving to investor/government/business pressures for a pointless reason? Because It seems to us that it could be seen as their simply revoking their promise to “let Tweets flow.” On the other hand, if they are being threatened by some governments to be completely shut down at the border, perhaps a limited Twitter is better than none.
What do you think?
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