Twitter Announces New Censorship Policy

A man huddles in fear from a squawking flock of twitter birds.Twitter announced a change towards its censorship policy, and it has sparked both positive and negative response from its users. The change would allow Twitter to censor tweets locally in any particular country, when required by the local law, but keep the tweet accessible in other countries.

In a blog post titled “Tweets still must flow,” the company explains the rationale behind the new policy:

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.

At one end, it seems that Twitter is doing what’s necessary to keep its presence in countries with less than perfect freedom of speech. Either it complies with the local law and is able to serve the local community, albeit with certain restrictions, or it gets outright blocked. Twitter chose the former, with a promise to publish any take down requests it complies with on ChillingEffects for the sake of transparency.

On the other end, one has to wonder if the service could still be used to coordinate or spread information on an outlawed movement, such as the Arab Spring, which had ousted several dictators and inspired reforms in governments in the region.

The effect of the new policy is still unclear in such situations. Which side will Twitter take when there’s another protest in a country with draconian laws that restrict basic free speech? Will it comply to the local law, however ridiculous it is, or side with the people?

Oddly, Twitter has linked to a workaround to bypass its censorship in the announcement blog post, which defeats the purpose of censoring any tweets in the first place. Perhaps, such a soft approach to censorship will be able to circumvent laws in countries with mild censorship law, but you bet the Chinese government wouldn’t be impressed.

Photo credit: Pete Simon

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