Twitter to censor “inappropriate” tweets in certain countries

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Publisher: FilePlaza

Date added: 27 Jan 2012

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In what feels like the first major controversy of this year, the microblogging site has announced that it will be capable of censoring unaceeptable tweets in certain countries. And thus the fuse was lit.

The key platform for the organization of recent protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring has shocked the Internet by announcing its newest ability: the possibility to “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country.” In other words, Twitter, one of the most important sites in social networking, might be censoring some tweets that can be considered offensive or inappropriate in certain countries.

An euphemism for censorship?

After the announcement, angered comments sprung all over the Web by worldwide users that felt that their trust and reliance on the social network had been betrayed. But, what exactly is what Twitter is proposing here? Is it really as dramatic as many people are putting it?

In plain terms, the platform administrators will now have the possibility to avoid specific tweets from being displayed in countries where such materials can be deemed unacceptable. According to Twitter’s official blog, this move would be justified since there are regions that “have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.”

This is far from being a novelty. Twitter already had the power to erase or delete specific tweets and even whole accounts when didn’t comply with certain guidelines. The change proposed here is that, instead of blocking access to the whole world, the blockade will only be effective in countries were the tweets can be seen as offensive in the light of political, social and cultural beliefs.

Additionally, all of this censoring mechanism will be supervised by Chilling Effects, a non-profit organization devoted to free speech online which has partnered with Twitter to that effect. The idea behind this is to transparent the strategy as much as possible, reason why both partners opened up a page in which blocked tweets and causes for such action are displayed.

Finally, the user will be notified by Twitter itself and the polemic tweet will be grayed out and replaced by a text that will read: “This Tweet from @username has been withheld in: [Country]. Learn more."

Harsh reactions and call for calmness

This announcement, which many people has felt as if a bomb has been dropped on them, has obviously divided the popular opinion. For example, some of the most outraged users are now calling for complete site blackout, a protest cry that has turned the hashtag #TwitterBlackout into the top trending topic. The move will take place on January, 28th and will imply the suspension of all the Twitter-related activities from all of the users that subscribe the protest.

The rate at which tweets with the aforementioned hashtag are being posted is huge. The boycott is trying to get as many people as it possibly can and apparently is succeeding (unless in the “getting your attention” part”). It remains to be seen how this strategy will impact the site and if it is capable of rising some sort of awareness regarding the topic.

On the contrary, Jillian C. York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has addressed this issue and she says that “this is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law. Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.”

And she continues by expressing that “Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).” To her, the only possible solution for the site is to comply and introduce a series of mitigating steps, among which transparency (something Twitter already promised) would be the top one.

Caught between the crossfire, there’s this site, this monstrous platform that has been growing no-stop, especially outside the US. For Twitter, the only way to keep on such track is to start taking measures like this one, in spite of the general discontent.

For the users, however, this may feel like an irreversible blow to what they felt like the freest place in the Web. The discussion is far from being over but after tomorrow we’ll get a general sense of where all of this is heading.

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