In an apology — “we should not and cannot be in the business of proactively monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is” – Macgillivray was careful to emphasize Twitter’s self-appointed role as a campaigner for free speech.
Twitter in China: #FreeSpeechFail?
Twitter’s freedom of expression halo is burnished by its being currently banned in China. Twitter was blocked there in 2009, after the company made it possible for information about the July 2009 Ürümqi riots to spread without government censorship.
China’s largest information portal, Sina, runs a Twitter-like service, Weibo, that is massively popular in China but also carefully scrubbed by censors lest politically sensitive topics — the escape of dissident Chen Guangcheng from house arrest, for example — be discussed. As Vivian Ni noted on China Briefing earlier this year, it’s almost inevitable that Twitter will seek to regain entry into China to boost its global revenue.
Macgillivray claims there is a “church-state divide” between users’ tweets and the fact that it’s a company that needs to turn a profit. Should Twitter seek to return to China, it could find that principle endangered: would the Chinese government demand that tweets tagged with the name of dissident artist Ai WeiWei be blocked?
One thing’s for sure. Before Twitter, a “tweet” was an onomatopoeic word for bird sounds and part of the name of a big-headed yellow cartoon character. Thanks to Twitter, we now hear the likes of the New York Times intoning that “tweets belong to the user.” Who would have thought it was possible for so many people (judges, government officials, communist governments) to make such a big deal about a mere 140 characters?
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