Twitter can censor tweets by country

Twitter has announced that it now has the technology to selectively block tweets on a country by country basis. It’s a victory for countries like China and India which block or threaten to block websites carrying “objectionable” content. Twitter seems to be giving in to countries with restrictions on freedom of expression to expand its global business.

On its blog, Twitter said it could “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country”.

But it said the removed content would be available to the rest of the world. Previously when Twitter deleted a tweet, it would disappear worldwide.

Twitter announced on September 7, 2011 it had 100 million active users logging in at least once a month. But it is blocked in China. India has also threatened to block websites if they don’t have a mechanism to check and remove “objectionable” material.

A court in New Delhi last month asked 21 social networking sites to remove all “anti-social” and “anti-religious” content by February 6.

“Like China, we too can block such websites”, Justice Suresh Kait of Delhi High Court warned. Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others were advised to create a mechanism to remove “offensive and objectionable” content from their services. Now Twitter has just such a mechanism.

Twitter has nearly 300,000 daily unique visitors from India and about 70,000 from Singapore, according to Google Trends.

The Twitter Blog in a post dated January 26 titled Tweets Still Must Flow says:

One year ago, we posted “The Tweets Must Flow,” in which we said,

“The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact … almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.”

As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.

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. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page, http://chillingeffects.org/twitter, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

There’s more information in our Help pages, both on our Policy and about Your Account Settings.

One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The Tweets must continue to flow.

Twitter, along with other social networking sites like Facebook, has played a vital – if disputed – role in organising everything from the Arab Spring to the London riots in 2011, according to the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

PC World says:

The obvious question here is what Twitter will do when freedom fighters, like those who participated in the Arab Spring last year, tweet their dissent or use the service to organize protests. Will Twitter agree if a repressive government wants to silence their own people?

Twitter thinks that’s an unlikely scenario, according to Danny Sullivan, writing in Marketing Land. Authoritarian governments usually either ignore Twitter or shut down the entire service, the company says. They don’t ask to censor specific tweets.

When Twitter blocks content, it will post a notice of its action to Chilling Effects, an online rights joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law schools at Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine and George Washington University, and the Santa Clara University School of Law.

Twitter’s Chilling Effects page currently shows that the company has blocked a number of tweets because they include alleged violations of the Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA).

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