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Twitter Enables Censorship, Boycotts Begin

January 29, 2012

This article is re-posted from Common Dreams.

Social media website Twitter announced Thursday that it will begin blocking certain messages (tweets) on a country-to-country basis. Twitter has been known as a vehicle for free speech as well as a source for social and political organizing — notably during the protests in 2011 from the Egyptian uprising to Occupy Wall Street. Governments will now request Twitter to take down certain ‘illegal’ tweets, which will be blocked from its citizens but may still be visible by users outside of the censored country. Many have now raised concerns that this will open the door for repressive governmental censorship, in some ways defeating the benefits of Twitter all together.

This is a sudden reverse in policy for Twitter who has previously boasted its capacity for free speech.

Users across the world are beginning the protest and a Twitter boycott has been planned for tomorrow.

The UK Independent reports:

In a statement published online the San Francisco-based company told users that it could now “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country.” Twitter defended the technology as a way of ensuring the maximum possible audience could view its content whilst adhering to specific laws in different countries.

Previously when Twitter was forced to delete a tweet it would be taken down worldwide. Now individual tweets can be blocked in specific countries with Twitter promising to flag when a comment is taken offline.

An example Twitter gave was Germany where glorification of Nazism or publishing Hitler’s Mein Kampf, for example, is illegal. If a tweet broke German law, Twitter could block users in Germany from reading the tweet but continue to allow others worldwide to see it. […]

Free speech advocates expressed concerns that the new technology would encourage repressive governments to insist that Twitter take down critical content especially given the website’s role in helping to organize mass protests during last year’s Arab Spring.

“Whilst censoring tweets that break the law in individual countries is preferable to taking down the content altogether, we’re going to be monitoring this very closely to ensure that Twitter’s commitment to free speech isn’t watered down,” said Mike Harris, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship.

UK’s Sky News reports:

The move to censor certain tweets is a significant change from its position during the Arab Spring in 2011, where protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere used Twitter to co-ordinate demonstrations.

As the protests gathered momentum last January, Twitter signaled it would take a hands-off approach to censoring content in a blog post entitled The Tweets Must Flow.

“We do not remove tweets on the basis of their content,” the blog post read.

It added: “Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed.”

But now a new blog post by Twitter said: “Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”

A boycott of Twitter has now been planned and will go into affect tomorrow. Huffington Post writes:

Twitterers have a message: Tomorrow, turn off the tweets.

Users of the social media site are planning a Twitter boycott to protest the company’s new ability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis. […]

Some users are calling on fellow Twitterers to silence their tweets on January 28 as a way of expressing their opposition to Twitter’s plan. They are using the hashtag #TwitterBlackout to organize the boycott, and tweets tagged with the hashtag are rolling in at a clip of about 12 per minute. The tweets span a range of languages, including English, German, Spanish and Arabic.

The protest follows less than two weeks after thousands of websites, including Wikipedia, Google, and Reddit, protested two controversial anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, by shutting down or posting notices outlining the downsides of the proposed legislation. Google alone managed to secure more than 7 million signatures for an online petition opposing the bills, and tweets about SOPA and PIPA numbered in the hundreds of thousands the day of the protest.

Yet this online protest, and others like it, have relied on Twitter as a means of communicating between protestors and buttressing support for their movements.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 8:17 pm

    (Late comment but may as well…)

    There are alternatives that use the open StatusNet platform. It’s federated, which essentially means that people on other sites using the software can still communicate easily. is a popular example which I use.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    February 21, 2012 9:52 pm

    Thanks for this suggestion…….

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