Techno Files: Twitter’s new censorship rules cause global ire
By Peter Hernandez
Tweeters worldwide have been emblazoned with fury after the Internet microblogging service announced new censorship procedures on offending updates in specific countries on the same platform that enabled revolutionary events like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall St. The company blog announced on January 26 that when a government flags a Tweet, an alarm would read that the user or the Tweet alone would be withheld, followed by the country in which it was censored.
“In short, we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability — and for our users,” wrote the company on their blog. “Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal.”
Like a carefully worded and crafted 140 character Tweet, the 3,640 character blog post spurred a frenzied reaction leading to a #TwitterBlackout two days later. The blackout prompted fervent Tweeters to abandon a passion they insist on protecting.
“I’m joining the #TwitterBlackout & won’t tweet tomorrow. Time to go back to getting news 12 hours after it happened,” wrote Omar Johani of Saudi Arabia.
The move signals a maturity of a growing company that aims to appeal to new markets.
“The Internet is not a virtual space, and cyberspace is not a planet which can float above all jurisdiction forever,” said Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The company has long touted its transparency. As the first U.S. company that fought to protect user information during the Wikileaks case, it was also the only to announce the case’s defeat.
More than 100 million active users have already begun to feel censorship taking place when copyright violations, deviations from terms of service, or spam issues occur. Until their new practice is implemented, those censored Tweets will be removed worldwide rather than in its affected country.
Some attribute this new policy to business investors in Saudi Arabia and pressure from oppressive governments, where pressure has been felt similar to Google censoring its search engine for the Chinese market. Chin has blocked Twitter since the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen democracy protests in 2009.
Twitter has also partnered with the anti-censorship website ChillingEffects.org, a pairing that Twitter insists will encourage transparency when a Tweet is indeed censored.
The changes mark a subtlety between their past practices that were often unannounced. Offensive Tweets would sometimes be simply deleted without notice.