Twitter Censorship: Necessary Evil or War on Freedom of Speech

SMS Text


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.

[Sources Include: Twitter Blog, Reporters Without Borders, & Wall Street Journal]

David Angotti

David Angotti

After successfully founding and exiting an educational startup in 2009, I began helping companies with business development, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO),... Read Full Bio
David Angotti
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Robert – MD SEO Expert

    As many of you may know, Twitter has been used as a catalyst to overthrow repressive regimes in the Middle East. It has been used by protesters in the states and abroad to quickly and effectively communicate. It is a shame that Twitter appears to have sided with censors, but I would guess this is a compromise likely to keep it operating in countries with SOPA like laws on their books. The alternative may have been to shut down completely in certain countries.

    Censorship with regards to the internet is a slippery slope. Even if those proposing restrictions claim censorship will only be used in extreme circumstances, it is often up to them to define ‘extreme circumstances.’ What purpose could this new policy possibly serve than to silence dissident views of the status quo?

  • Daniel Frank

    The twitter as a revolutionary tool is overstated. While I agree that their censorship is wrong, the repeated claim of twitter revolutions overlooks the fact that people can always find away.

    There is also an increased chance of getting a Streisand effect going, hey guys Twitter/the government just said my friend can say this. Given that this censorship is retroactive and limited that seems like a highly probable result of any attempt to actually censor a tweet.

    So yes its bad, but probably not the end of the world.

    • Steve Hill

      Daniel makes a good point. Where there is a will there is a way. To say that Twitter starts or causes revolutions whether fully or partially, is essentially saying that all things equal, people will put up with government oppression if they don’t have Twitter. That just isn’t true at all.

      Nevertheless, censorship in any capacity is a slippery slope and this should be an early warning sign to anyone. Whether you live in America or elsewhere.

  • Rednights

    Afraid of 140 characters, is this for real.

  • BinaryRecoil

    Get with the program. Twitter has been maliciously altering their own “What’s Trending” blip since (at the least) the Pentagon declared the internet a war domain. Since October, have you actually SEEN the hashtags OWS or NDAA “Trending”? Despite that, at one point when I checked, those topics were getting 100+ tweets in less than 10 seconds.

  • Internet Marketing

    Twitter have ALWAYS censored tweets that broke local laws, but those tweets would be completely removed so that nobody in the entire world would be able to read them, now Twitter has the ability to only remove them where they are illegal while still allowing the rest of the world to read the content 🙂