A fortnight back, the Indian government asked Internet service providers (ISPs) to block 16 Twitter accounts (including those of some right-wing entities and leaders), blog posts, and hundreds of Web pages featuring user-generated content on Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
The reason: communal tensions were being fanned in the wake of violence in the border districts of Assam. After protests in Mumbai on Aug. 18 turned violent, the government said hate content was spread through the Internet by groups in Pakistan.
Twitter agreed to block six fake accounts which the government said were "misrepresenting" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Insofar as this, and some other incidents where the Indian government (as also governments in other countries) has asked social networking sites to censor content are concerned, one can debate for hours whether these measures are necessary or not.
Also, there is a general lack of awareness about how social media needs to be used--both for the purpose of expressing views as well as for tracking criminals, terrorists, and other anti-social elements by the government authorities. Most importantly, this rather nascent medium needs some strong regulations to avoid misuse.
But that apart, I spotted two other news items about Twitter that point to a crucial trend.
The first one was datelined Sydney. Twitter was reportedly planning to block access for third-party developers which run on the micro blogging platform, but do not make any money for it.
This means parody sites and apps which run on the social networking site will soon disappear. Twitter will only issue a "sign-in" button to Web sites and apps that are paying to use its data. Therefore, unauthorized and unauthenticated posts won't be allowed on the site.
According to Tom Scott, the developer of parody site Klouchebag, commercializing how people connect to Twitter might make good business sense, but blocking developers and apps that helped to boost its popularity was a betrayal.
"Coming from a company that used to thrive on openness, and whose initial push to success was by the techies who built interesting, small projects, it just seems rude," Scott was quoted in the report. Klouchebag is a popular Web site that parodies Klout, a site that claims to be able to measure someone's online influence.
In another news report, datelined San Francisco, Twitter's chief lawyer Alexander Macgillivray said fighting for free speech was more than a good idea. He said it provided a competitive advantage for his company.
Macgillivray's legal team has been fighting an increasing number of battles these days.
"We value the reputation we have for defending and respecting the user's voice," he said in an interview. "We think it's important to our company and the way users think about whether to use Twitter, as compared to other services."
These news reports bring out the dilemma confronting social media today--freedom of speech versus profits.
Both imperatives collide with one another. As social media companies get listed on bourses, set up offices across countries, and adopt newer revenues models, it will become increasingly difficult to strike a balance between these two imperatives.
Now, isn't that the dilemma conventional media has been confronted with for decades?