In a blog post late last week, Twitter announced plans to begin censoring users’ tweets within certain countries. The censorship policy, which the company has stated is reactive only, will not filter tweets before they appear on Twitter. Instead, after Twitter receives what they view as a valid and applicable legal request concerning a specific tweet that has already been published, they will then make that tweet unavailable to users within specific countries.
Twitter said the following regarding the necessity of the new censorship feature and policy:
“Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”
Olivier Basille, a free speech advocate and the director for Reporters without Borders, encouraged Twitter to reconsider the implications of the decision:
“By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization. Are you going to block tweets about the demands of Turkey’s Kurdish minority? Will Russian Internet users see their criticisms of the government censored?”
Although Twitter did not respond directly to Basille’s criticism, the company did say that they will only censor tweets if they receive a valid request from an “authorized entity” and after a tweet is removed they will notify the tweet’s author.
While the Twitter censorship policy is controversial and has many outspoken critics, the new policy is similar to the policies of other large technology companies. For example, Google works with local authorities to determine if content violates local laws and if they determine that the content violates the local law, Google removes the content and notifies future visitors that it was removed due to an official take-down request.
Twitter, which has over 100 million active accounts and in excess of 250 million daily tweets, has publicly said that they believe the new censorship policy will result in a higher level of freedom of expression and transparency than they have been able to provide in the past.