Late last week Twitter announced that they were about to launch functionality that would allow them to censor tweets by blocking them for users in individual countries, ostensibly to allow them to avoid breaking any laws in those countries.
Predictably, there has been some outspoken opposition to their plan, with many commentators concerned over the free speech implications of this sort of selective censorship.
When commenting on its decision, Twitter explained that international growth may bring them into countries with different ideas about the “contours” of free speech, and that they needed to be able to accommodate those that were not so different as to prevent Twitter from operating, but where certain types of content, (they used the example of pro-Nazi content which is banned in France and Germany) was restricted.
Transparency On Censorship
In their favour, Twitter has elected to be as transparent as possible with regard to censoring tweets, even to the point that the tweet will still appear in timelines, but greyed out, and with a message that the tweet has been withheld in your country.
Another point perhaps is that this is an improvement over the global effect that previously occurred do to the inability to selectively prevent tweets in specific countries.
How Free Is Speech?
Of course, there are legitimate concerns over what this will mean to Twitters famous and much hyped role in human rights protests last year. The company claims it is still committed to those ideals, but there is doubt over its effectiveness if, for example, the sort of tweets involved are not visible to the people they’re meant to encourage.
Speaking at the “All Things D” conference yesterday, Dick Costello, the CEO of Twitter, has suggested that applying these censorship policies will allow Twitter to have a presence in certain countries, which is better than having no presence at all, and that the message will still be available to the rest of the world.
How effective that will be remains to be seen, but we’re fairly sure that people won’t stop using Twitter over this, regardless of their displeasure at the decision.