Country-Based Censorship on Twitter Prompts Outcry
Imagine a global chat room where anyone anywhere can express themselves however they want. It has been in existence for a few years, already, but now picture the administrator of the platform that enables people to share their comments, observations, thoughts, questions, and everything else from all corners arrogating to itself the power to say that — depending on the country of origin — your words may be subject to censorship in that country.
Now, both things are happening, and the reaction is not positive. Twitter announced on its blog, “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.” In order to accommodate this, the San Francisco-based company decided it will begin to “give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”
Twitter also noted: “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.” That does not appear to mollify the legions of outraged criticism that instantly issued. Hash tags such as “#TwitterCensorship” have instantly appeared.
Some of the most recent postings under that tag include one from Ben Wederman of CNN, who wrote: “#Twitter committing #twittercide with #twittercensorship. That little bird is now going in a cage. NOT pretty.” The company seems to agree that it is not pretty, and for that reason they teamed up with a project by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the most stalwart defenders of digital free speech, called Chilling Effects — seemingly as a realization that such a policy decision would in fact have that very kind of effect on the “Twitterverse.”
As the Washington Post has reported, Twitter is hardly alone. The reporter, Hayley Tsukayama, pointed out that Google and Facebook also “have similar policies to remove content to comply with individual countries’ laws regarding speech — one of the most commonly cited examples of a law like this is Germany’s prohibition against pro-Nazi content.”
However, others say that this presents a slippery slope, opening the door to allowing regimes to ban speech they do not like — like the speech that helped spark the revolts in the Arab world. Tsukayama noted that many of the anti-censorship posts were written in Arabic, which has become the fastest-growing language on the network.
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