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Twitter – A Wiser Way to Censor?

January 31, 2012, 9:42 AM
On Thursday, Twitter posted a new censorship policy, stating that it will now have the ability to “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”

This is a change from Twitter’s previous policy of removing posts globally if it receives a request it deems legally valid from a government in which it has offices and employees -- currently, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, and Germany (soon). Twitter, like all companies, is bound by the laws and regulations of all countries in which it conducts business, and cannot ignore ‘take down’ notices from these countries without legal repercussions.

There are a few reasons why this new censorship policy, if implemented honestly by Twitter, is an upgrade instead of an outrage:

  • Twitter says it does not block or filter any Tweets before they are posted: “With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.”
  • Twitter states that “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.” According to the New York Times, this means that users in a country where a Tweet has been censored will see “a gray box” with a note such as “This tweet from @username has been withheld in: [Country].” Users outside of the censoring country will see the Tweet normally.
  • Furthermore, whenever Twitter takes down a post it will send the content of the post and information about why it was censored to Chilling Effects, the anti-censorship database that logs Cease and Desist notices reported by internet users as well as Google and Wikipedia. This will allow people from around the world to track which countries are censoring which type of Tweets, potentially aiding local and global anti-censorship campaigns.
  • Twitter’s settings allow users to easily circumvent government censorship: Simply manually set your location to the country of your choice or choose “Worldwide” in the Country list under Settings.
Twitter’s new policy is a wise step towards combating government censorship: by publicly censoring Tweets and reporting the reasons to Chilling Effects -- instead of simply making Tweets disappear without a trace -- the company is letting its users know what was censored by which country and why. This is essential information for anyone who cares about internet censorship, as without it we are left to speculate about certain government’s actions and intentions.

Internet users should praise Twitter for this new policy, which implemented honestly will provide maximum transparency about its actions and give its users increased ability to monitor government censorship around the world.



Chilling Effects - a global anti-censorship database
The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Twitter’s new policy
The New York Times on Twitter’s new policy
Twitter’s explanation of their new policy
Twitter’s current rules


Image credit: Shutterstock.com



Twitter – A Wiser Way to Ce...

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