Twitter Now May Censor Tweets in Some Countries

Twitter is giving itself the right to withhold content in specific countries, while keeping that content available for the rest of the world, the company announced Thursday.

Twitter can now remove tweets from appearing to users in a particular country, while allowing them to stay posted elsewhere in the world. Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr

Twitter has refined its technology so it can censor messages on a country-by-country basis. Until now, the only way for Twitter to censor content was to universally eliminate it from the site.

The additional flexibility announced Thursday is likely to raise fears that Twitter’s commitment to free speech may be weakening as the short-messaging company expands into new countries in an attempt to broaden its audience and make more money, The Huff Post reports.

In its Thursday blog post, Twitter said it hadn’t yet used its ability to wipe out tweets in an individual country. All the tweets it has previously censored were wiped out throughout the world. Most of those included links to child pornography.

“When we receive a request from an authorized entity, we will act in accordance with appropriate laws and our terms of service,” a Twitter rep told Mashable.

Twitter sees the censorship tool as a way to ensure individual messages, or “tweets,” remain available to as many people as possible while it navigates a gauntlet of different laws around the world.

Twitter will post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed. That’s similar to what Internet search leader Google Inc. has been doing for years when a law in a country where its service operates requires a search result to be removed.

The similarity to Google’s policy isn’t coincidental. Twitter’s general counsel is Alexander Macgillivray, who helped Google draw up its censorship policies while he was working at that company.

Twitter, which is based in San Francisco, is tweaking its approach now that its nearly 6-year-old service has established itself as one of the world’s most powerful megaphones.

Daisy chains of tweets already have played instrumental roles in political protests throughout the world, most notably in the uprising that overthrew Egypt’s government a year ago.

Meanwhile, the post comes one day after Twitter announced it would be becoming available in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu — languages written from right-to-left and spoken in many countries associated with strict government media restrictions.

Mustafa Kazemi, a war correspondent in Afghanistan, points out that Twitter users in countries with government censorship have yet to find out what this will mean for them.

“This censorship can be a blow to the independence and freedom of speech online and will widely affect the twitter usage market globally, particularly in the countries where there is a high graph of anti-US activities online,” Kazemi told Mashable.

“One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice,” Twitter wrote in a blog post. “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.”

If Twitter defies a law in a country where it has employees, those people could be arrested. That’s one reason Twitter is unlikely to try to enter China, where its service is currently block.

Twitter, which is based in San Francisco, is tweaking its approach now that its nearly 6-year-old service has established itself as one of the world’s most powerful megaphones.

Daisy chains of tweets already have played instrumental roles in political protests throughout the world, most notably in the uprising that overthrew Egypt’s government a year ago.

Twitter wants to expand its audience from about 100 million active uses now, to more than 1 billion.

Reaching that goal will require expanding into more countries, which will mean Twitter will be more likely to have to submit to laws that run counter to the free-expression protections guaranteed under the First Amendment in the U.S.

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