Outrage over Twitter censorship plan

2012-01-28 09:15

New York - Twitter, a tool of choice for dissidents and activists around the world, found itself the target of global outrage on Friday after unveiling plans to allow country-specific censorship of tweets that might break local laws.

It was a stunning role reversal for a youthful company that prides itself in promoting unfettered expression, 140 characters at a time. Twitter insisted its commitment to free speech remains firm, and sought to explain the nuances of its policy, while critics - in a barrage of tweets - proposed a Twitter boycott and demanded that the censorship initiative be scrapped.

"This is very bad news," tweeted Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem, who operates under the name Sandmonkey. Later, he wrote, "Is it safe to say that (hash)Twitter is selling us out?"

In China, where activists have embraced Twitter even though it's blocked inside the country, artist and activist Ai Weiwei tweeted in response to the news: "If Twitter censors, I'll stop tweeting."

One often-relayed tweet bore the headline of a Forbes magazine technology blog item: "Twitter Commits Social Suicide"
San Francisco-based Twitter, founded in 2006, depicted the new system as a step forward. Previously, when Twitter erased a tweet, it vanished throughout the world. Under the new policy, a tweet breaking a law in one country can be taken down there and still be seen elsewhere.

Twitter said it will post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed and will post the removal requests it receives from governments, companies and individuals at the website

The critics are jumping to the wrong conclusions, said Alexander Macgilliviray, Twitter's general counsel.

"This is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency and accountability," he said. "This launch is about us keeping content up whenever we can and to be extremely transparent with the world when we don't. I would hope people realise our philosophy hasn't changed."

Some defenders of internet free expression came to Twitter's defence.

"Twitter is being pilloried for being honest about something that all internet platforms have to wrestle with," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "As long as this censorship happens in a secret way, we're all losers."

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland credited Twitter with being upfront about the potential for censorship and said some other companies are not as forthright.

As for whether the new policy would be harmful, Nuland said that wouldn't be known until after it's implemented.

Reporters Without Borders, which advocates globally for press freedom, sent a letter to Twitter's executive chairperson, Jack Dorsey, urging that the censorship policy be ditched immediately.

"By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization," the letter said.

"Twitter's position that freedom of expression is interpreted differently from country to country is unacceptable."
Reporters Without Borders noted that Twitter was earning praise from free-speech advocates a year ago for enabling Egyptian dissidents to continue tweeting after the internet was disconnected.

"We are very disappointed by this U-turn now," it said.

Twitter said it has no plans to remove tweets unless it receives a request from government officials, companies or another outside party that believes the message is illegal. No message will be removed until an internal review determines there is a legal problem, according to Macgilliviray.

"It's a thing of last resort," he said. "The first thing we do is we try to make sure content doesn't get withheld anywhere. But if we feel like we have to withhold it, then we are transparent and we will withhold it narrowly."

Macgilliviray said the new policy has nothing to do with a recent $300m investment by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Mac or any other financial contribution.

In its brief existence, Twitter has established itself as one of the world's most powerful megaphones. Streams of tweets have played pivotal roles in political protests throughout the world, including the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and Syria.

Indeed, many of the tweets calling for a boycott of Twitter on Saturday - using the hashtag TwitterBlackout - came from the Middle East.

"This decision is really worrying," said Larbi Hilali, a pro-democracy blogger and tweeter from Morocco. "If it is applied, there will be a Twitter for democratic countries and a Twitter for the others."

In Cuba, opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez said she would protest on Saturday with a one-day personal boycott of Twitter.
"Twitter will remove messages at the request of governments," she tweeted. "It is we citizens who will end up losing with these new rules ... ."

  • Ian - 2012-01-28 09:21

    stinking politicions again, so much for free speech

      Sheda - 2012-01-28 09:45

      Hey don't blame them - fight them. Anybody out there, with a few internet brain cells more than me - why don't you start a Fitter(Free Twitter) social site. If they close one open another. I'll join.

      Jarryd - 2012-01-28 11:37

      I dont know why people are angry at twitter, when its the politics and laws inside certain countries that are forcing it to make these filters. Mis-directed anger?

      Fourhundredkg - 2012-01-28 19:22

      Time to dust off and oil the old guillotine again. Off with their heads, I say!

      Jo.Davies123 - 2012-01-30 08:18

      I agree Sheda! The sheer number of scoial networks out there mean that there will always be a place for everyone to rant and rave, saying just what they feel. And there will always be more than enough people who feel strongly enough about social networks vs. freedom of speech to support them. Thank goodness... What I find interesting is the number of people that comment that claim to have such strong feelings against Twitter. There are various sites that people have the choice to join and be exposed to. If you do not agree with one, why join it? If you join and do not like what you see, leave it! As simple as that.

  • Vegi - 2012-01-28 09:35

    I am delighted that tweets that insult our leaders may now be removed with no fuss. This calls for a braai over the weekend.

      Sheda - 2012-01-28 09:48

      Vegi - even though you do not state it I can see that you have a very subservant and twisted corruptable mind over the defintion of "leader" Shame......

      Ian - 2012-01-28 09:59

      does vegi stand for retarded vegtable, I will say what the hell I like about your ledus, come stop me

      John - 2012-01-28 14:41

      Vegi…Do you for one moment think that our so called “leaders” are deserving of respect. You EARN respect, not demand it!! When these “leaders” have failed the country and lined their own pockets at the expense of the tax paying population, then they must expect criticism. Corruption will bring any country to it’s knees. A true democracy is one that it’s leaders are able to take criticism, analyse it, and make adjustments for the good of the people who put them in power.

  • Malcolm - 2012-01-28 09:52

    I cannot think of a better way of stopping this social media diahorrea! If we put our ideas into action rather than talking about them, we and our world would be far better off.

      Mike - 2012-01-28 10:17

      I think the people that took part or were affected in the Arab spring would disagree with your view that social networking does not lead to action

  • Peter - 2012-01-28 10:25

    The rain that watered the Arab Spring decides to poison the well of freedom. Good grief. How STUPID. Imagine the boycotts and attacks that will follow. The dictators of the world must be cheering.

      dawiej - 2012-01-28 17:10

      Not many dictators left in the world after the arab uprising. Now we just need one in zim

  • Nurse - 2012-01-28 10:25

    It's time that twittering nonsense was shut down. No-one wants to hear your tweets, no-one cares about your ridiculous brain farts. It's bad enough I had to create a facebook profile just to comment on this ridiculous news site.

      Jo - 2012-01-28 12:10

      If you do not like this why are you responding just go away.

      Willem - 2012-01-28 12:18

      Go and get an personality injection

      aardvarkie - 2012-01-28 12:18

      I agree, there's a lot of rubbish out there, but if you know what you're doing you can filter most of that out. It's a great resource for information. I add companies and individuals that are of interest to my business, they tweet about up-coming technology trends and innovations etc. Facebook has it's merits and it depends how you use it - some use it as a platform & add anyone & everyone as "friends" to discuss and debate, others use it to stay in touch with friends & family overseas. Nobody is forcing you to join FB or Twitter, anymore than your choice to comment - in which case you have to 'play along'.

  • Fanie - 2012-01-28 10:28

    So twitter supports the ANC's propasal of the secret laws

      Karmah - 2012-01-28 10:49

      Not quite.. It's the Americans SOPA and ACTA that want to silence the Internet. Very similiar to the Information bill here, just the ineternet. Meanign if this bill gets passed, no more facebook, no more twitter, no more free reading of anything you migth want to learn about. People say it's a first world problem but it's not. Where are all the major sites hosted? America...

  • Vegi - 2012-01-28 10:29

    Twitter is responsible for the loss of our beloved Brother Leader. Twitter is a danger to our leaders and its influence should be curbed immediately. I am glad that its owners have come to their senses.

      Nurse - 2012-01-28 10:34

      Obvious troll obvious. Go away and think of better ways to troll, you are so 2005.

      Karmah - 2012-01-28 10:49

      U have no idea what you are talking about moron....

      John - 2012-01-29 13:58

      Vegi…Do you for one moment think that our so called “leaders” are deserving of respect. You EARN respect, not demand it!! When these “leaders” have failed the country and lined their own pockets at the expense of the tax paying population, then they must expect criticism. Corruption will bring any country to it’s knees. A true democracy is one that it’s leaders are able to take criticism, analyse it, and make adjustments for the good of the people who put them in power.

  • Fanie - 2012-01-28 10:31

    Vegi,braai like Nero while SA is burning

  • Jo - 2012-01-28 12:06

    Slowely censorship will move in and strangle free speach and democratie. Many governments have seen they can be brought down by the power of communication. In priciple they are warlords, mafia corrupt and try to decide what you allowed to see and read and in general what is good for you. You can not hold them accountable. Long live a free twitter.

  • aardvarkie - 2012-01-28 12:24

    One thing I love about the internet is that you can't shut billions of people up. Even if Twitter and FB commit suicide with full blown censorship some other sites will pop up and become the new trend.

  • Passionate.Parrot - 2012-01-28 12:25

    Terribel news, is no one allowed to express an opinion anymore? Why are people so sensitive? Where has freedom of speech gone to

  • Charmaine - 2012-01-28 12:30

    Evil must be kept out of The God Given Gifts Of Communications

  • jaco.slabbert - 2012-01-28 19:14

    Twitter sucks SOPA off... the fact that they are going to be rather transparent about how, when and why tweets are removed rings of "too little too late".

  • brionyl.french - 2012-01-30 05:21

    I just wish Twitter would fix its virus thats actually made me hate it and not even see the point of twitter the legal way of stalking...

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