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Aidan Hiljeh

Twitter Censors Tweets by Country, but Policy Largely Unchanged

Feb 21 2012, 04:15 PM by

Twitter has embraced a lot of change as of late, and if you ask the critics, some of that change has not been for the better. The latest drama to unfold for the company from the City by the Bay revolves around a new policy that censors the voices of users in certain countries. As you can imagine, the lovable social network has found itself in a bit of a pickle thanks to this one.

Per the recently introduced policy, Twitter has the ability to censor tweets on what it calls a “country-by-country” basis. So if a user posts an update that violates a law in their country, it will be inaccessible to other users who reside there as well. On an interesting note, the post will still be available to users around the world who are not affected by those laws. Twitter has taken a proactive, transparent approach by trying to let users know when content has been withheld from them, but that has not stopped the firestorm of criticism that has resulted from its new stance.
Selling Out to The Man?
The censorship initiative has some users viewing Twitter as a sellout, including Mahmoud Salem, an Egyptian activist and blogger who goes by the handle “Sandmonkey” in the world of Twitter. Chinese activist and artist Ali Weiwei declared that he was prepared to take action, tweeting that he would stop using the service altogether if it started censoring content. Several media outlets have even bashed Twitter for what is perceived as a very dramatic change for a service that was once viewed as a medium that supported and encouraged freedom of speech.

In the past, Twitter’s approach to censorship was about as straightforward as you could get. If a tweet was found to violate laws anywhere, it was deleted entirely and blocked from users in every country where the service was available. For some reason, the company has decided to adopt a slightly different and more targeted strategy with its censorship endeavors, one that will have no bearing on users outside of the specific country in question.

The new policy has been drawing comparisons to those employed by rival Google, who announced big changes to its privacy policy just days before censored tweets became a hot button topic. Come to find out, all this may not be as ironic as it once seemed, seeing that Alex Macgillivray, General Counsel at Twitter, played a significant role in devising the censorship element of Google’s privacy policy years back.
Twitter Says No Big Deal
Twitter certainly did a fine job of getting the global user community all riled up, but is this just another case of internet users overreacting? The San Francisco-based company believes so. Macgillivray said people have the wrong idea about where Twitter is headed with censorship and that the huge investment recently contributed by Saudi Arabian billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal Mac had nothing to do with adopting the new policy. The pay for play allegations are another topic for another post, but in defense of Twitter, what it is doing now in regards to pulling tweets isn’t too much different from the way it previously handled them when the law was involved.

While Twitter has been taking a verbal lashing from some of its users, not all are opposed to country-specific censoring. Leaders from both China and Thailand have expressed that their respective nations are in support of the controversial new policy. This isn’t necessarily a good thing in the eyes of critics, seeing that these two countries are considered to be among the most repressive regimes in the world. For now, it looks like disgruntled users should be content with the fact that Twitter is making a concerted effort to be as honest and transparent about the censorship policy as possible.

Posted in Social Media, Current Events

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