Twitter censorship threatens free speech
Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 14:02
First SOPA and PIPA — now Twitter censorship?
Last week, Twitter announced policy changes that would be created in order to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis, where certain countries would be blocked from tweeting in order to protect local laws. While the tweets will still be available to the rest of the world, these messages will be inaccessible in the host country, and Twitter will publicly announce why the tweet is being removed if the "take-down" requests are challenged, according to the Associated Press.
I can understand this implementation, especially when considering Facebook's own recent changes to censor information across the Internet in order to respect local laws and customs. Google also made changes to their blogging platform, blogger.com, similar to Twitter's in terms of censorship, but while Twitter's policies gained massive amounts of attention in a matter of days, Google's Jan. 9 policy update was finally focused upon just last week.
It also seems to me that this new change could be directly linked to the current situation in China, where censorship is so rampant. It may be wise to respect their laws and avoid confrontation where the use of propaganda and activist tweeting is concerned. In some instances, it is better to just go ahead and block potentially illegal information from spreading like wildfire, as tweets are so prone to do, than to let situations dangerously get out of hand.
But what makes this policy any different from the infringing policies of SOPA and PIPA? Granted, this will only affect certain countries at a time, but what will stop these policies from spreading in the future? The information I've managed to find relating to this policy is broad at best, merely stating that Twitter would take action on a country-by-country basis, decide which "specific tweets" would be taken down and have the "ability to reactively withhold content from our users in a specific country—while keeping it available in the rest of the world," according to the Washington Post.
According to a blog on the Wall Street Journal, a state-run Chinese newspaper found these new censoring policies as "pragmatic," going so far as to say that "it is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the Internet, and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point."
Make freedom their own selling point … now, what was it that America was based on again?
If we go by this loosely outlined policy, America — known for its own activism and widespread protests (Occupy, anyone?) — could be a considered an ideal country to enforce selective tweeting. Really, who is to say what should be censored, and what tweets are appropriate to post or delete? I just can't imagine the company has an outline for every possible scenario as to what constitutes a "good tweet" in each country all over the world.
Ironically, back in July, when the Twitter page for Fox News had been hacked and began to falsely announce President Barack Obama had been assassinated, Twitter had ardently advocated that they "strive not to remove tweets on the basis of their content," as long as they are legal, valid, don't compromise privacy, don't violate copyright laws and don't threaten anyone, according to the Washington Post. Just because someone is protesting against something does not necessarily mean it will directly violate one of these fairly straight-up standards.
I understand what Twitter is trying to get at with these changes as it tries to adapt to an international market and maintain a neutral position in foreign territories, but the large potential loss in free speech worldwide is too much of a risk factor.