Twitter announces country-specific censorship policy

Twitter announced that it will begin censoring tweets specific to individual country’s freedom of expression policies. While before, the only way Twitter was able to censor tweets was globally, the social networking site now says it can tailor its censorship of tweets to users from specific countries.

Twitter claims it has not yet used its powers of censorship, but that if it does, it “will attempt to let the user know” and “will clearly mark when the content has been withheld.” In its announcement, Twitter offered the examples of the France and German ban on pro-Nazi content. Thus far, Twitter says it has mostly only deleted tweets that linked to child pornography.

Twitter has said it will only take down tweets that are against the law in a specific country and has teamed with to post the takedown requests it receives.

Although Twitter has long been an advocate of the free flow of information, this announcement is a turn-off for some, with many fearing that Twitter will back down from the staunchly free exchange stance it has held in the past.

Some attribute the change in policy to the recent $300 million investment from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.  Still others, such as EFF director of international freedom of expression Jillian C. York, believe that the announcement doesn’t reflect a change in policy at all, since Twitter has already taken down content in compliance with DMCA requests. Twitter has also previously kept out of China out of fear of retaliation from the Chinese government.

How will Twitter’s new policy affect international users, who have often used the service to spread the news of political protests? Twitter’s new policy may now, in fact, prevent the future spread of information, such as the contribution it provided to the protests in Egypt. There is no doubt that Twitter and other social media networks have contributed greatly to political movements throughout the world.

Twitter must decide what its role will be. Will it continue to be a vessel through which those who are unhappy with their governments can communicate, or will it slink into the realm of MySpace, where not even today’s teens will bother to post up their latest bathroom mirror deer-in-the-headlights photos? Will Twitter hold to its promise to only exercise its forces of censorship at the express request of a particular government? You can bet First Amendment advocates will be watching very closely.

5 Responses to Twitter announces country-specific censorship policy

  1. Charles Platt says:

    The interesting question to me is how the policy will be implemented from a technical perspective. I doubt that Twitter will employ tens of thousands of human censors. Therefore, some kind of natural-language algorithms will be used to detect offensive speech. In which case, will they be smrt ngh t ntrprt sntncs whtt vwls? Will they handle reversals of key words such as demmahom? Wh?t ab??t ch?r?ct?r s?bst?t?tns?

    Seems to me, the Internet has always found ways around this kind of thing.

  2. shg says:

    Twitter is a private enterprise, not a government or a utility. We use it because it allows us to do so, to the extent it chooses to permits us to do so. There is no First Amendment right at stake.

    Anyone displeased with Twitter’s policy choice is free to use an alternative, or to start their own flavor of Twitter that will allow unfettered twists to their hearts content, but there is no basis for the imposition of public duties on private corporations.

  3. kvennarad says:

    Outside of the USA there is no ‘First Amendment’ (before any American readers smirk at that, ask yourself what the First Amendment is really worth in a society where information and opinion is so successfully manipulated anyway). Twitter makes its own rules – it could decide today that it will no longer function at all, let alone censor content from certain countries. It’s a capitalist enterprise, and if we think it has sold us freedom of speech we have fallen for a line.

    Sure we have freedom of speech anyway, but you need money to be heard big.

    Marie Marshall

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