Should Twitter Self-Censor?

Jan 28 2012 @ 12:40pm

The social networking giant recently revealed its ability to censor certain tweets in countries with speech-restricting laws, provoking a coordinated boycott of the site. Jillian C. York wants everyone to calm down:

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law. Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have "boots on the ground", so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

But the censorship is incredibly easy to circumvent, which makes Zeynep Tufekci think the policy is Twitter's way of getting around speech laws. Mathew Ingram steps back:

[Twitter, Google, and Facebook] are businesses with corporate interests, not triumphant defenders of free speech — and they each provide the bulk of their services for free, and make money by selling their users’ attention to advertisers.

General counsel Alex Macgillivray says Twitter is committed to being “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and the company says it would never use its new powers to block tweets during an event like the Arab Spring, or prevent dissidents in Iran or China from using it to further their cause. But how do we know this for sure? We don’t. … Dave Winer and other open-network advocates have repeatedly made the point that relying on a single corporation, or even several of them, for access to such important tools of communication is a huge risk. But what choice do we have? We either have to try harder to find more open alternatives, or we have to trust that Google and Twitter and Facebook are looking out for our best interests — and when they don’t, we have to make it clear that they are failing, and hold them to account.