A year ago, Twitter was being heralded as a game-changing, freedom-promoting platform capable of organizing a noble revolution across the Arab world. Now, the expanding company seems to be having second thoughts about just how committed it is to unfettered, unconditional free speech. In a blog post Thursday, Twitter announced that it would start abiding by individual countries' censorship rules by selectively blocking controversial tweets from appearing to local users. For instance, in France and Germany, pro-Nazi content is illegal; pro-Nazi tweets there will now be banned. (Twitter users in unaffected countries will still be able to see the blocked tweets.) This is a marked shift for the company, which had previously said, "Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users' right to speak freely." Is this change justified?
This is an unfortunate move: The new policy seems counterintuitive, says Alex Moore at Death and Taxes. How relevant would a tweet by someone organizing protests in Egypt be to users in other countries? Censoring locally "kills the platform's most immediate threat to oppressive governments," taking away the proven power of the medium "in countries that need [it] the most."
"Twitter to start censoring in countries that need Twitter most"
Twitter is making the best of a tough situation: Calm down, says Mike Masnick at Tech Dirt. Twitter is actually "doing a smart thing here." When a government demands censorship, the only options for Twitter are to comply or face being banned from the country altogether. Twitter's compromise is "elegant." Locally blocked tweets can still be seen in other locations, and, more importantly, the site is making an impressive effort to alert users when content is blocked so "that people can learn about what's being censored." This "shines more light" on efforts to censor Twitter than the actual act of censoring.
"Twitter decides to censor locally, rather than block globally, in response to government demands"
Either way, it's a letdown: Twitter has been exalted as "a force for global progress and human enlightenment," says Jeff Bercovici at Forbes. That reputation was stoked by the company's insistence that "we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content." This policy change should leave users feeling "disappointed and betrayed." Furthermore, it exposes the true purpose of Twitter: "It's just a business, not a savior."
"Shocker! Twitter censorship shows it's just a business, not a savior"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How I lost all my money
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- 10 things you need to know today: December 22, 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- A brief history of the Christmas present
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
Subscribe to the Week