Twitter’s promise to remain uncensored subject to the whims of foreign governments

By Maria Torres

This past Thursday, Twitter announced that it would now “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country” in accordance with local laws. This new strategy is not the same as completely removing tweets from the site. Instead, as Danny Sullivan explains, “… if Twitter gets a request to remove content under the laws of another country, it can react to remove that content just for people in those particular countries.”

Sullivan notes in the Marketing Land article that, in the past, Twitter has removed (and will continue to remove) tweets that are “illegal” in the Twitter-verse in order to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Although this may seem like an act of censorship, it is outlined in Twitter’s policies that users who infringe on copyright are subject to the removal of those tweets that do just that. (The Chilling Effects site provides examples of tweets that have been removed for violation of copyright.)

No matter how clear Twitter is in explaining its motives, there are still users who believe their rights are being limited. Some see the censorship of tweets in certain countries as potentially dangerous. Since so many people relied on tweets during the uprisings in 2011, the general fear is that governments that ban tweeting about protests might cause Twitter users to miss out on important details about possible conflicts.

Is Twitter really so evil, even if it is not actually removing the censored content? Do these governments that do not share our beliefs of freedom of expression pose any long-term issues for the future of Twitter and any of its social-networking counterparts? Should U.S. companies stop globalizing themselves just because the countries they want to enter fail to agree with their own values?

Keep in mind that Google has been doing a similar censorship of search results for years now. What makes Twitter any different?

[Mediawire story]

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5 Comments on “Twitter’s promise to remain uncensored subject to the whims of foreign governments”

  1. cailinob says:

    Censoring of information on the web is always a sticky issue — and probably will be for years to come. The problem is simple: the Internet is one gigantic entity that spans over several cultures, belief systems, and governments. It is difficult, therefore, to give an unbiased opinion on whether Twitter should be allowed to censor information (in the form of deleting tweets) because in order to do so, I would have to consider the viewpoints and ethical differences of every person and/or nation who uses Twitter.

    To the best of my knowledge — that isn’t possible.

    I can understand, therefore, why Twitter has chosen to react to the laws of each individual company. From a democratically biased viewpoint, however, I would have to assert that Twitter really should have stood its ground on this one — and kept all the tweets up. The fact that the forum that was such a big part of uprisings this past year is now out of reach for many peoples is, in a word, disturbing.

    The Internet should be a cloud of ideas spanning across all ethnic backgrounds and beliefs — deleting democracy or potential radical ideas from that cloud is unfair and unrepresentative.

    That isn’t to say, however, that this “cloud of ideas” isn’t dangerous in many ways — just to say that maybe we should live with the danger.

  2. What is concerning about Twitter censoring itself is how important Twitter was in the Arab Spring. By agreeing to censor some of its users ideas, the possibility of mass collective action against a dictator or unwanted policy radically shrinks.

    The great thing about the Internet was that is was unrestricted. Even Chinese people can reach Google through Google Hong Kong. Now, one of the forefront social networking sites is telling people they can be social… as long as we are being social about the right topics. Almost like an unrelenting parent.

    It’s certainly not the best situation.

  3. kes91 says:

    All social networking sites I’m aware of have some sort of restrictions on what you may and may not post, generally for good reason. The fact that sites like Twitter and Facebook are so mainstream in society is because they are designed to appeal to the masses. The drawback of popularity online is that with a great number of followers comes more need for control. For the most part, however, I was under the impression these sites were more concerned with removing or preventing the post of graphic or obscene statements and pictures. This idea that they would instead be focused on blocking users from political statements and information sharing is troubling. In Twitter’s defense, once a user agrees to the policies of the site, there is little or nothing that can be done. In the end, the creators and leaders of Twitter have the final say on what can and cannot be posted on the site they created.

  4. I think that the administrators of Twitter cannot possibly hold themselves responsible for the content that all of their users post. If a post infringes on the laws of a particular country, then Twitter must abide by those rules. I completely agree that they shouldn’t remove a post for the rest of the world, that doesn’t abide by the same limitations as certain countries.

    Twitter should censor tweets if deemed inappropriate by the standards of a particular country. U.S. countries should never cease seeking globalization, but it is important the keep in mind the laws and values of other countries in order to globalize successfully. It is unrealistic to think that other countries should simply accept the “American way of life”. I do not believe twitter is being “evil” by censoring Tweets, I think they are simply looking out for their own company, and not considering the social and political implications of those actions.

  5. ugakramer425 says:

    I can’t concur with the so-called attempt to “censor” Twitter in certain governments. I guess it’s not a huge issue in the U.S. otherwise we’d be talking about it. Anyone who uses Twitter should know that it’s 140 characters worth of free speech. It doesn’t mean freedom from consequence though. This is why journalists can’t simply report breaking news without confirming it and getting an editor’s approval.


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