Disturbing development at Twitter: countries will silence tweets

January 27, 2012

Word came down yesterday that Twitter will begin giving the governments of some countries the ability to request to have messages censored over their service. This is a big change from Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray’s previous statement from last year that the company was “from the free speech wing of the free speech party.”

Twitter claims they have not yet censored anyone under this new policy and will tell the public when they do, possibly with greater cooperation with the website Chilling Effects.

One has to wonder if the Arab Spring could have happened the way it did under this new policy. Since censored tweets will still be available for people outside of the country doing the censoring, does that simply make those banned tweets more powerful? If everyone else in the world can see what is being blocked, will it have the opposite of the intended effect and bring greater worldwide attention to possible injustices?

For a reasonable, smart analysis of the new Twitter policy, check out this great post by Paul Smalera.


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Censoring a tweet in Country X could bring more attention to it in the rest of the world than not censoring it. Especially if Country X is on the news radar and the people in Country X are trying to get the word out rather than use social media for internal organisation. Hopefully backchannels stay up for internal organisation.

And it is interesting that Twitter seem to have made it suspiciously easy to change your country setting so allowing you to see tweets censored in your country…

Posted by paulmwatson | Report as abusive

It is indeed a sad day when free speech – especially on a selective level – is enforced through “open” media channels. That said, given the state of pervasive communication that exists in our world today, I’m fairly confident that if you block a tweet in one country, but make it available in another, the masses will find a way to work around that restriction.

Taking away the communications channel is a band-aid, and does nothing to silence the message. Close one communication channel, and people will find another to get their message across.

– Fred

Posted by fredmcclimans | Report as abusive