Twitter Censorship: #Fail

Twitter sparked an outcry — indeed, an #outcry  and calls for a #TwitterBlackout– when it announced on Thursday that it now has “the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.” That is, Twitter will now block certain messages in countries where certain content is considered illegal, when authorities make what is deemed a valid request. Users will know that something has been blocked on seeing “Tweet withheld” in a gray box, as well as a message that “This tweet from @username has been withheld in: [name of country].”

The  response of a user from Sweden, Björn Nilsson, typified the feelings of many:

“Thank you for the #censorship, #twitter, with love from the governments of #Syria, #Bahrain, #Iran, #Turkey, #China, #Saudi and friends.”

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for 81 days by the Chinese government last year, uses proxy services to post on Twitter which is banned in China. But Ai has tweeted that “If Twitter starts censoring, then I’ll stop tweeting.”

The Atlantic Wire points out there is actually a “pretty easy way to get around the whole ordeal.” Twitter censors tweets based on the country a user is located in. If you follow these instructions, you can find out how to change your location to a country with different censorship laws, to see a tweet that is censored in your own country.

Twitter has always had to ”remove content that is illegal in one country or another, whether it is a copyright violation, child pornography or something else,” says the New York Times. As Twitter representative Matt Graves told The Atlantic Wire, the company does “not proactively monitor or filter any content.” Twitter’s concern is not to censor what users tweet, but to comply with the censorship policies of different countries “just enough to get them off their backs” and to avoid having to shut down in some countries. The company will actually be posting removal requests on Chilling Effects, which is jointly run by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and several American universities.

While Twitter is taking what is a “logical step” as a global communication platform, it is, notes TechCrunch, an unfortunate sign that Twitter is conceding (if not kowtowing) to the policies of governments — including repressive regimes — around the world:

Before this announcement, Twitter was a global platform on which something was either said or not said, on a global scale. Now, Twitter’s new power to enforce censorship depending on your country both legitimizes the blocks and concedes international territory specifically to countries that “have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.” This diplomatic casting of the restriction of speech, from a company that is built around the idea of free communication, is troubling.

Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has described Twitter’s announcement as a “necessary evil.” The problem that Twitter has run into is one that internet companies are going to encounter as they seek to operate globally and  in countries that restrict people’s rights to freedom of speech and expression. Politico quotes Cynthia Wong, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Global Internet Freedom project:

“Companies are in a difficult position. Is it better for platforms to remain in a country even if some content is blocked?”

It is indeed a thin line that Twitter is walking. Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, notes that the change could alter the “usefulness of Twitter in authoritarian countries” and even render it “no longer helpful to a rebellion against oppressive governments.”

If such is the case, Twitter could be on its way to no longer being a “political tool.” Certainly will remain a platform to use to communicate with friends, share websites and articles, promote products and such. But as Twitter evolves into a global social and business platform, can it remain an agent of political change and human rights?


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Photo by michi003


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

Egypt, Libya and Tunisia are recent uproars that needed the Internet to get the word out. The dictators of those countries tried to black-out the web but it didn't work. Myself I haven't even visited Twitter, rarely use Facebook andother social networks (besides Care2), but I don't want to see any more censorship online. We have anough of ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, etc, to last us an eternity. All censorship are bad because if you allow one to operate, there's no end to it. Illegal activities online will be there no matter what we do censorwise. All information should be free for everyone and what's disturbing is that even so called democratic countries are trying to silence that free information. Fight them or they will fight you!

Mel M.
Past Member 6 years ago


Chuck P.
Chuck P.6 years ago

Krystal M, Kathy P, et al: What's important isn't the content that is being censored, but rather the fact that censorship exists. "Child porn" is a perfect example because it is completely irrelevant to censorship. In fact, it is a bogey-man used TO censor and to oppress. The evil to be shamed, punished and stamped out isn't its distribution or possession, but the sexual abuse of children to create it.

But if your thinking is imprecise, you can be tricked into accepting censorship in the name of preventing exactly that kind of child abuse... no, wait, we already know that censorship won't actually prevent THAT. So then we must accept censorship in the name of curing or otherwise stopping the perverted demand for child abuse in the first place... well, no, we already know that censorship won't cure or stop that either. Look, don't over-analyze everything. Do you want child-porn? Are you a pervert? Just shut the hell up and accept that sometimes we have to censor things.

But only the bad things. Really. I promise.

Chuck P.
Chuck P.6 years ago

Twitter's achilles heel is that they created a system over which they actually have control. How long before they are pressured to close their browser-cookie backdoor? I know at least one other way around the censorship, but an even better solution would be a P2P site specifically targeting dictatorships by being designed to broadcast comments, audio and video. (Why should the damned thieving pirates have all the good systems?) If there already is a distributed network like that, I don't know of it.

Krystal M.
Krystal M6 years ago

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I dislike any form of censorship (it just makes the censored that much more provocative). But on the other hand, I find Twitter incredibly boring and the people on it far less interesting than they imagine or pretend to be.

However, it's such a great tool for self-important people that I don't see it disappearing or becoming less popular, even if it were to continue censoring or even blacklisting other countries.

Phillip F.
Phillip Ferrell6 years ago

I have to agree with Kathy P.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

"If such is the case..." These five words in the last paragraph says it all. Dr. Chew unfortunately does not say what they are willing or not willing to censor to operate in other countries besides the United States. For that, I am willing to hold my tongue until I know more.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P6 years ago

kathy, this has nothing to do with that, this is what certain countries find illegal, i.e dictators, etc. Not what is actually wrong.

Nina Anghel
Nina Anghel6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago