The social media and micro blogging platform Twitter announced that it has refined its technology so as to allow more flexibility when it comes to censoring tweets. But before you flip a desk over and boycott Twitter, let’s take a look at what they’ve really done as this news can be somewhat misleading.
Up until now when Twitter had to delete a tweet it disappeared from the world without a trace. But this announcement brings the news that Twitter will now be able to censor messages on a country-by-country basis. So even if a tweet is deleted in say, France, that tweets is still in the twitter-verse and can be accessed here in the US. In addition to keeping the tweet in countries where it is not legally required to be removed, Twitter will also post a censorship notice whenever they remove a message.
This isn’t a new policy but one which has been use by one of the largest internet companies in the world: Google. Google has been doing this for years when the law in a country where its services operates requires a search result to be banned. And the similarity in the way these two tech firms tackle this issue is not surprising seeing that Twitter’s general counsel is Alexander Macgillivray, the man who helped with Google’s foreign policy.
The reason for the debut of this flexibility is due to Twitter’s ambitions in broadening its audience, looking to expand from the 100 million active users it has now to more than 1 billion. To reach this goal Twitter will invariably need to “go live” in more countries, some of which will not have the west’s inclination towards the freedom of speech as a fundamental human right.
As a Twitter blog post states, “One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The tweets must continue to flow.”
Like Google, Twitter also plans to the share any removal requests it receives from governments, companies and individuals in these new countries at the chillingeffects.org website. So far Twitter hasn’t needed to use their new ability to censor content in an individual country.
Still upset? Well consider how instrumental Twitter is in political protests, most notably in Egypt’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last year. So in my humble opinion I think it is more important for some Twitter to exist in countries that would censor than not exist at all. And don’t forget that when a tweet is deleted in a country, it still pops up here in the US (and any country where it is not illegal). This can only lead to more communication between the peoples of the world. I do not agree with those that say this move by Twitter is an indication of their moving away from a commitment to free speech. On the contrary, I think the idea that Twitter will be available in more countries, even in some that would censor content, is a step in the right direction, a step towards tearing down these oppressive governments. Increased communication can only be good and in lieu of having nothing in these countries, I think it much the wiser to have at least a little bit, because as we’ve seen, a little bit can go a long way.