Last week, Twitter announced through their blog that they would be reactively censoring users’ tweets in specific countries if requested by the proper authorities.
Twitter acknowledged that some countries "have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression" and that Twitter would not be able to exist in those countries without drastically altering their service. As a result, Twitter gave itself the ability to withhold content in certain countries to meet their standards.
Twitter emphasized that tweets would only be censored when it was required. In order for a tweet to be considered for censorship, a "valid and applicable legal request" must be submitted by a governing body. The tweet is then evaluated and if it is withheld, the user will be notified. Censored tweets will appear in the applicable country with the following text: “Tweet withheld. This tweet from @Username has been withheld in: Country. Learn more.” Users whose accounts are censored completely will display as “@Username withheld. This account has been withheld in: Country. Learn more.” If you were accessing Twitter from a country that banned messages about alcohol you could conceivably see these withholding messages for tweets about alcohol or accounts that regularly promote it.
The big question is how this would affect an individual who uses Twitter. Obviously if you lived in a country that requested certain tweets to be censored, you simply wouldn’t be able to see them. However, if you lived in a country like the United States where this censorship wasn’t prevalent, the issue you might face would be having your tweets censored in other countries. Under this new practice a government that is attempting to prevent information about democracy being disseminated among its people could request censorship. The same is true for countries that are trying to prevent messages about various religions, social practices, and more.
While the likelihood that the average Twitter user would be censored at all is probably not high (more influential people like authors, athletes, or politicians are better targets), Internet censorship is a slippery slope. If Twitter is willing to make censorship an option, it makes one wonder what else they’ll do. However, Twitter is just a business and ultimately has the right to censor whatever it likes on its own platform. Fortunately for now it seems that Twitter is merely offering to comply with the requests of foreign governments as opposed to actively blocking messages it doesn’t like.
So what are your thoughts? Should Twitter censor anything? Let us know!