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Twitter: Censorship at Governments’ Requests

Posted on May 27, 2014

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Last week, Twitter made a pro-Ukrainian Twitter feed inaccessible in Russia. In addition to blocking that account, Twitter has also worked with the Turkish government to monitor content that officials there find objectionable, but then Turkey shut down the entire platform a couple of months ago when Twitter was being used as a platform for anti-government protests, which no doubt factored into the tech company’s willingness to accommodate Turkish officials’ concerns. The New York Times also reported Thursday that Twitter blocked content that upset a Pakistani bureaucrat, honoring his request to censor tweets on five occasions.

Historically Twitter has taken great pride in how it is “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” as CEO Dick Costolo proclaimed in 2011. This unfettered freedom, unfortunately, did not last long. A year after making that proclamation, Twitter enacted a policy that allowed certain countries to block content from being viewed by people in their particular nation, although it would be “available in the rest of the world.”

Twitter now runs a database called Chilling Effects Clearinghouse that fields requests for censorship of certain content, with the premise that the company would allow some censorship rather than a complete ban of the platform.

Via Business Insider:

Twitter has yet to make a public statement about any of these cases, and it did not respond to our request for comment. The company has previously explained that it simply wants to follow the law each country it operates in:

“Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”

“Over the last several years Twitter has made the explicit point of being a defender of free speech,” Galperin said. “This is something the CEO has said himself. You cannot claim to be a defender of free speech and then cave in to Pakistan or Russia. You simply can’t have it both ways. To watch it backpedal like this is extremely disappointing.”

Bolstering what Gigaom reported in 2012, this latest news adds to the troubling number of cases in which Twitter has blocked content in response to various governments’ requests.

—Posted by Donald Kaufman

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