Twitter begins censoring content: How this will affect you

Summary:Twitter said today that it will begin censoring tweets, if required by law, on a country-by-country basis. Europeans and Americans, however, will most likely be affected.

Twitter, until today, has been a free and open platform for tens of millions of people around the world, to say and share what they like.

The problem is government's in reality do not like their citizens to be 'free and open' in what they say, despite freedom of speech and expression laws. Even here in the United Kingdom, we are barred from talking about certain subjects, and banned from even saying that there is a ban in place on certain subjects.

But as Twitter grows and expands, it has to abide by the laws of the country it is in --- just as any other company does operating on a borderless, worldwide level.

The microblogging site said today on its company blog that while it has not previously been able to censor tweets, much to the annoyance of government's and certain ordinary citizens alike, Twitter will now "give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country --- while keeping it up in the rest of the world."

While the UK has super-injunctions, Twitter cites cases such as France and Germany where pro-Nazi content is banned for "historical or cultural reasons". Fair enough.

But the UK as one good example, along with many other European countries, have secrecy laws and privacy laws that overlap freedom of speech and expression laws. Taking photographs of people in public, bar in restricted areas, on the most part is legal in most European member states. But harassing somebody day in and day out infringes their right to privacy.

Ironically, some of the most developed and 'free' societies in the world, like the UK, France, and Germany, will be more affected than countries like Egypt, Libya, and Syria, that are still battling with their own freedom and democracy in their respective countries. It will be more likely that developed nations, such as the U.S. and European countries, will request for Twitter to censor tweets or topics than those with repressive regimes like Syria and Russia.

Twitter, as one of the forerunners in the free and open Web, will be criticised heavily for this. But as an Internet company, it has little choice but to comply where possible, and create a platform that allows creativity to flow, while illegality to suffer.

How does this affect you?

It probably won't. Twitter is working with Chilling Effects, a blog monitoring online censorship amongst other things, to be as open and as transparent as possible. It's also likely that, based on its blog post, Twitter users will be proactively notified when a tweet cannot be displayed in their country.

If, for example, a celebrity was to be granted a court injunction preventing the disclosure of an affair, then it would be illegal for Twitter to algorithmically or manually update its Trending Topics of either name, within the country where the order was made, or defined by the scope of the order.

Twitter said, speaking to Marketing Land that most of the tweets relate to DMCA notices, which requires tweets to be pulled because they contain links to infringed copyright material, or links to torrent sites where such content is available.

But should a country outlaw the tweeting of an event, a protest, a demonstration, or anything negative about their government -- so called "North Korea rules" -- will Twitter censor those tweets too? The scope is yet to be defined, and as with most 'laws', the policy comes first and the practicalities are worked out after the bill has passed.

"The tweets must continue to flow", Twitter reiterates. But whether or not you see them is something entirely different.

Related:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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