Twitter is one of the hottest internet tools on the planet. At the current time, however, it is also one of the most scrutinized. Once viewed as a medium that empowers the right of free speech, some are now questioning whether it has sold out to the governmental powers that be.
The matter at hand here is the increasingly controversial issue of censorship on Twitter.
Infringing on free speech?
Twitter recently announced a policy that gives it the power to block certain tweets from users in certain countries. Apparently its new stance stems from wanting to distance itself from nations where free speech is restricted, though the policy is based on current laws. So for instance, if a user from the United States posts a tweet that somehow violates laws in China, the post would be restricted from users in that country. However, even though the content is essentially banned in China, users in the U.S. and other countries where the law isn’t an issue can still access it.
Though its intentions appear to be genuine, Twitter has found itself in the middle of a heated censorship debate. The initial reaction to the news was negative to say the least. A number of notable bloggers and activists spoke out about the issue, including Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, who threatened to shut down his account and organize a boycott against the popular short messaging service. From China to Egypt, the overall consensus among the global user base has been the same – censoring tweets is not cool!
The so-called country-by-country censorship initiative is like a full 180 from Twitter’s previous stance on handling troublesome content. Before the new policy, any tweet that needed to be pulled for one reason or another was blocked from all users, in all locations. Now everything is based on geography and local legislation. Some say the new approach is ineffective, citing how users can still gain access to blocked tweets by spoofing their location. Others say the move could possibly open up a black market of sites harboring archives of banned Twitter content. Interestingly, Twitter I finally starting to receive some support after all the backlash.
Various media sources have reported that Twitter’s controversial censorship has been embraced by China and Thailand, both of which are identified as two of the world’s most repressive nations. This is not encouraging news for users who have already had questions about political figures making sizable investments in the social network. In the eyes of a growing number of foreign activists, Twitter has turned its back on the very community it exits to service.
Up to this point, most of the tweets Twitter has censored with its new powers have been pulled due to requests stemming from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The company says that it has been notifying users when content has been restricted from them, and filing record of the tweets it blocked on ChillingEffects.org. Censorship is a hot button topic in many countries today, so it will definitely be interesting to see how this issue plays into the Twitter experience moving forward.