Twitter Should Embrace Openness, Not CensorshipBy: Zach Walton - January 27, 2012
As we reported and as you all are most likely aware of by now, Twitter will begin censoring tweets.
The idea of censoring tweets does raise a few concerns, especially among those who used it in revolutionary protests last year in the Middle East. It’s still being used by different factions within activist and protest groups to spread the word on events and actions taking place.
I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but just take a look at @YourAnonNews. They are tweeting announcements of protests, where to meet up, the time they are taking place, etc. The problem arises if and when a country asks Twitter to remove these tweets to throw protest movements into disarray.
Heck, a major reason the ACTA protests in Europe are being successful is because of Twitter’s influence. Multiple Twitter accounts are coordinating their efforts to create protests today in Warsaw, Poland; Brussels, Belgium and other cities across Europe.
The story we ran today on Polish politicians wearing Guy Fawkes masks was retweeted over and over again giving solidarity and hope to the protesters. Under Twitter’s new censorship guidelines, it could all swept under the rug.
Speaking to WebProNews, Anonymous Sweden said that they can absolutely see European governments blocking access to protestor tweets to stifle the movements against ACTA.
The move comes at a time where Twitter wants to expand internationally and with these new tools may be able to convince China to let them in. The need to selectively censor tweets after seeing this is pretty obvious. It would expand their business and allow them to grow far more rapidly.
One must wonder, however, if Twitter is putting their own interests ahead of the “positive global impact” that they themselves see Twitter having.
The reaction to Twitter’s announcement was pretty strong, but expected. Of course, the Internet took off right away to get #TwitterCensored trending to make a statement to the social media giant that it wouldn’t stand for it.
#TwitterCensored needs to know that when internet was cut off in Egypt, more people decided to go on the street and protest.
Most using the hashtag #TwitterCensored are unsurprisingly from Arab nations who used the social networking tool to organize protests last year.
On top of that, Twitter users are also using the hashtag #TwitterBlackout to pledge their support to a campaign centered around not tweeting Saturday, January 28.
Right now, the only tweets being reported are DMCA takedown notices. You can view the reported tweets at Chilling Effects.
In Twitter’s defense, it’s encouraging that they are making this whole process as transparent as they possibly can. They do say, however, that they have no obligation to tell users that a tweet was taken down if they are “legally prohibited from doing so.”
It’s also encouraging that they are moving with the selective country censorship instead of a global take down of offending tweets. This makes the process easier to get around in a loophole as we’ve previously reported on.
At the end of the day, it’s just discouraging to see Twitter enact a policy like this. They claim that their value as a company is to “defend and respect each user’s voice.” If they did respect their voices, there wouldn’t be a policy like this in the first place. There’s a reason why people are upset and it’s aimed squarely at what they perceive as a violation of their freedom of speech.
Twitter obviously doesn’t seem think so. Their blog post makes it seem as if they are only going to censor tweets that are offensive as hate speech or infringe copyright. Even if you don’t agree with it, hate speech is protected under some governments. The Internet, despite numerous attempts by governments to exert their power over it, is still very much a free forum for people to discuss their ideals, even nasty ideals that the majority doesn’t agree with it.
The “marketplace of ideas” is a concept that should be familiar to law students as it was used in Justice Holmes’ dissent in Abrams vs. United States. The idea is that the genuinely good ideas and speech will become favorable while offensive and infringing speech will die.
Twitter would be wise to take that into account with their new policy. Instead of trying to police all the users on their service, let what comes natural take place. Sure, there will be infringing and offensive tweets, but they mostly never trend. If you look at any trending page on most days, you’ll see ideas being shared between users that can enrich their lives and alert them to topics that are important to society as a whole.
Even if Twitter’s censorship amounts to nothing more than censoring offensive images in countries where they are banned, it still sets a disturbing precedent that would give more credence to other services’ efforts to stifle free speech.
Even if Twitter moves ahead with its plans and it turns out to be the worst case scenario, the Internet would still be a place of free expression. As John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
Do you see any concern in Twitter censoring tweets by country? Or is this just the concern of worst case scenario theorists? Let us know in the comments.