I’ve been noticing a bunch of tweets tagged #TwitterBlackOut. This tag and event was first announced and widely distributed early Friday morning by theÂ Anonymous-affiliated, highly visible@Anon_CentralÂ TwitterÂ account, whichÂ Tweeted the following message, which was retweeted all day Friday:
There are a few too many misleading articles being shared online in response to Twitter’s announcement on “filtering” which can be found on their blog. In light of SOPA,Â this post has caused a lot of controversy and has raised important questions on censorship and the democratic process.
I decided to go to the source, the original blog post titled “Twitter Still Must Follow”, on Twitter’s blog. Here’s a summary of the concerns clarified by Twitter:
Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four daysâ€”filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.
As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.
Q: What will people see if content is withheld?
A: If people are located in a country where a Tweet or account has been withheld and they try to view it, they will see a alert box that says â€œTweet withheldâ€ or â€œ@UsernameÂ withheldâ€ in place of the affected Tweet or account.
Q: Why did you take this approach, and why now?
A: Thereâ€™s no magic to the timing of this feature. Weâ€™ve been working to reduce the scope of withholding, while increasing transparency, for a while. We have users all over the world and wanted to find a way to deal with requests in the least restrictive way.
In a nutshell…
If I understand correctly, Twitter is basically saying that if you live in a jurisdiction (or country) where certain things are banned from being said or shared, then Twitter will comply with the laws of that land and censor (or as they call “filter”) that post only in that place. Here’s an example I saw on the ForbesÂ by a user WaltFrench:
Apparently, a German can think whatever she likes about Nazis, and publish a pro-Nazi OpEd piece in the New York Times, but that sentiment may not be aired in Germany. The New York Times would likewise be obligated to keep it from Germansâ€™ eyes.
A slippery slope?
While in this above context it may seem rational and straightforward, it’s rather a bit of a slippery slope don’t you think? I’ll give you my own example to illustrate my point:
If the government of Zimbabwe prohibits criticism of President Mugabe, Twitter will hold/filter/censor the comment so that people in Zimbabwe can’t see it but the rest of the world can.
My question is, aren’t most tweets usually meant for specific geographic audiences? I mean don’t most people tweet content relevant to their location? There are definitely things that Twitter needs to clarify or at least acknowledge about the wobbly nature of their update.
From where I’m seated it kinda looks like democracy and social change opportunities could be stifled by this new censorship policy.