Concern over Twitter's country-by-country censorship ability

 

Twitter is facing a backlash from its users after the website said it had the technology to censor tweets on a country by country basis.

The revelation has sparked criticism that the fast-growing short messaging site is departing from its free-speech principles as its looks for ways to further its global footprint and profits.

In a statement published online the San Francisco-based company told users that it could now “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country.” Twitter defended the technology as a way of ensuring the maximum possible audience could view its content whilst adhering to specific laws in different countries.  

Previously when Twitter was forced to delete a tweet it would be taken down worldwide. Now individual tweets can be blocked in specific countries with Twitter promising to flag when a comment is taken offline.

An example Twitter gave was Germany where glorification of Nazism or publishing Hitler’s Mein Kampf, for example, is illegal. If a tweet broke German law, Twitter could block users in Germany from reading the tweet but continue to allow others worldwide to see it.

“We haven't yet used this ability,” the statement from Twitter read. “But if and when we are required to withhold a tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld.”

Free speech advocates expressed concerns that the new technology would encourage repressive governments to insist that Twitter take down critical content especially given the website’s role in helping to organise mass protests during last year’s Arab Spring.

“Whilst censoring tweets that break the law in individual countries is preferable to taking down the content altogether, we’re going to be monitoring this very closely to ensure that Twitter’s commitment to free speech isn’t watered down,” said Mike Harris, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship.

The move is part of a fine line that Twitter has to tread as it attempts to expand into new countries and further its revenue sources. Venture capitalists – including most recently the Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal – have invested millions in the company and expect to see their largesse returned handsomely. For Twitter to make money it therefore needs to expand its audience based – currently around the 100 million mark – and find ways of introducing adverts that don’t put people off using the website.

Twitter users were quick to point out yesterday that the company’s new willingness to consider censoring tweets in a country specific capacity is in stark contrast to its previously strong stance on protecting free speech.

In October last year chief executive Dick Costolo described his country’s mantra as being “the free speech wing of the free speech party”. He was speaking shortly after the riots on Britain where Twitter had resisted pressure to take offline some of the tweets used by rioters to coordinate their looting. He argued that Twitter users had actually helped create a clearer picture of the riots by quickly debunking myths in real time.

The company has also fought legal battles in the United States to keep user details out of the hands of investigators who are trying to bring charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and some of those he communicated with.

However Twitter’s more formalised approach to deleting tweets on a country specific basis is not unusual. Google, eBay, Yahoo and Facebook all have systems in place that allow them to delete certain information in one country whilst keeping it online for the rest of the world to see.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas