Twitter is in the proverbial doghouse with many of its users. The social networking giant announced in a blog post on January 27 that it is implementing a policy to “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country—while keeping it available in the rest of the world.” In other words, if a country requested that Twitter take down or withhold a tweet, the social network may comply with the request.
Before you get upset with Twitter, and you can reserve that right in a moment or two, let me explain a few more details of the policy change. Twitter will tell users when their tweet is withheld, and a tweet will only be withheld at the request of a government. Twitter has not yet withheld tweets, but when it does it will allow Chilling Effects to publish the request to withhold content by the respective government.
Why is Twitter, the social networking site that helped fuel the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, adopting this policy? Twitter stated that as it grows internationally, “we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.” It does acknowledge that some ideas “differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.” Twitter also stated:
“There’s no magic to the timing of this feature. We’ve been working to reduce the scope of withholding, while increasing transparency, for a while. We have users all over the world and wanted to find a way to deal with requests in the least restrictive way.”
In Twitter’s policy section, which it links to in the blog post that announced the new approach, is the following statement:
“Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”
Is the new policy censorship?
Now you can use that reserved right to get upset with Twitter for a policy that, honestly, is very vague. Twitter claimed in the blog post that one of its “core values” is “to defend and respect each user’s voice.” Does that include users in China whose government censors what it can and can’t view on the internet?
Twitter users all over the world protested on January 28, a day after the announcement, by organizing a blackout. Just do a search of “#blackout” to see how many participated. Why are so many people upset about the new policy? A letter by Reporters Without Borders to Twitter Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey puts it best when it calls the new policy “local level censorship carried out in cooperation with local authorities and in accordance with local legislation, which often violates international free speech standards.”
The letter also asks if the decision to adopt the new policy is “motivated by the desire to penetrate the Chinese market at all costs.” Twitter recently visited China, and as the letter states, the social network “voiced the hope that Twitter would one day be permitted.” Hmm, Twitter, is that the real reason?