On 28 January 2011, Twitter published a monumental blog post which detailed their censorship plan (or rather, lack thereof). The logic that representatives of Twitter utilized was both practical and easy to understand: the company simply lacked the manpower to review one hundred million tweets per day, and furthermore, they believed in the free flow of information and thus would only remove from Twitter illegal tweets and spam. In fact, Twitter in 2011 believed that discussion of topics in geopolitics made Twitter “fun” and “important”.
Needless to say, the alterations to this open-information policy just one year later came as a shock to Twitter users. On 26 January 2012, Twitter published a post on the same blog which explains their alleged need for selective, country-based censorship. This approach to sharing information is, according to Twitter, informed by certain countries’ views on free information.
Specifically, Twitter will not be preventing content from being published. They will simply remove content retroactively, and users will know that content has been made unavailable because of their location. In other words, users in one country may be able to see all tweets published, but users in another country may have tweets with certain subjects made unavailable. This allows people to monitor information that is being censored by countries, and allows Twitter to leave up the “offensive” information in countries which do not censor their citizens.
Twitter’s Competitive Edge
From a business standpoint, this is extremely beneficial to Twitter as a company. Twitter realized over the course of 2011 that unrestricted access to information came at a price for business. However, according to some users, Twitter has taken away individuals’ right to free exchange of information, and caved to government censorship. Twitter gave a specific example of how Germany and France restrict pro-Nazi content, which is supposed to contextualize the problem Twitter faces in this new global age. However, there is no mention of what might happen when a country threatens to block access to Twitter country-wide in order to suppress political movements. Will Twitter give in to these governments’ demands and simply censor all tweets available in a specific country?
Freedom of Information
Blogger Josh Catone has a lot to say on the issue, which has sparked outrage among users. According to Catone, the new approach is more pragmatic and even encourages freedom of information. In the past when a government demanded that Twitter remove content, Twitter could comply and remove the offending tweets from their servers worldwide; alternatively, Twitter could refuse compliance. In consequence, despite international outrage, some countries simply banned Twitter access altogether (most notably,Egypt, during the violent protests of the Arab Spring). Even in theUnited States, there was some alleged censorship happening in connection with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and under the past policy Twitter could simply remove “illegal” content without stating that it had done so. Twitter has promised in this new policy to clearly mark content that has been censored, so the user knows what kind of content is being removed and why. Therefore, activists can monitor censorship by certain governments, and have a better idea of which countries are blocking citizens’ access to information.
In reaction to this new policy of selective censorship, many Twitter users are threatening a blackout on 28 January 2012 to give the company an idea of what will happen if they do not reverse their new “global” stance on free information.
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