Twitter & Freedom of speech
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Jim Wilson/The New York Times Alexander Macgillivray has addressed disputes over the Occupy movement and India’s prime minister. That conviction explains why he spends so much of Twitter’s time and money going toe to toe with officers and apparatchiks both here and abroad.
Twitter, #NBCfail & Olympics
As various levels of government both in the U.S. and around the world have stepped up their attempts to track down dissidents through social networks , the pressure has intensified on companies like Twitter and Facebook to comply with these demands — even at the expense of their users’ privacy. Despite that pressure, Twitter at least seems determined to fight these incursions wherever possible. As a case in point, the company has filed a motion in New York state court to quash a court order compelling it to hand over information about a user involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests, arguing that the order violates that individual’s rights. The case in question involves a protester by the name of Malcolm Harris, whose Twitter handle was @destructuremal, and who was involved in a protest against Wall Street financial mismanagement in October of 2011 that saw more than 700 people arrested for a variety of charges, including destruction of public property and resisting arrest.
Twitter has filed a motion in state court in New York seeking to quash a court order requiring it to turn over information about one of its users and his communications on Twitter. This particular case involves a Twitter user, Malcolm Harris, who is being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for disorderly conduct in connection with the Occupy Wall Street protest that occurred on the Brooklyn Bridge last year. This is a big deal. Law enforcement agencies—both the federal government and state and city entities—are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough.
See below for an update. One year ago, we posted " The Tweets Must Flow ," in which we said, “The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact … almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.” As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.
Twitter said Thursday that it has made changes to its network that will allow it to remove tweets in a specific country if required to do so by law , but assured users that it will try hard to avoid having to do so because “the tweets must flow” — and said it will be as transparent as possible if and when it has to remove something. The company said laws around what content is legal to distribute differ from country to country, and the new system will allow it to remove tweets only for users in a specific area , rather than censoring the entire network. But no matter how Twitter phrases it, this news is going to concentrate attention on one thing: that a corporate entity, however well-meaning, controls which tweets are seen or not seen.
Twitter will censor tweets in certain countries while still publishing them throughout the rest of the world, the company said Thursday on its blog . "As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there," the company said. "Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content." Twitter said it has not yet used the ability, which is outlined on its Help page , but when it does it will try to retroactively notify the sender.
A new Twitter policy which goes into effect today allows the social network "to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country," so that Twitter can further expand globally and "enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression." The Twitter blog post announcing this news was titled " Tweets still must flow ." And yes they must, but apparently in some countries, only if they're censored? Snip:
Until now, Twitter’s not had the ability to censor certain tweets or accounts, to prevent them from being seen — if legally required — by users in particular countries. That’s now changed, though Twitter stresses that it hasn’t yet used this new ability and that should it have to, anything withheld will be disclosed. Twitter has shared the news on its blog, saying: As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.
It’s barely been a day since Twitter made the announcement that, going forward, tweets could be censored based on the local laws that govern a user’s location, and the rumour mill is hard at work trying to figure out the reasons behind the decision. At the same time, many Twitter users are calling for a Twitter Blackout on January 28, vowing to keep Twitter quiet tomorrow. While Twitter cited the example of the ban of pro-Nazi content in Germany and France, could there be more to it than meets the eye? Why is Twitter doing this?
Today, Twitter announced a new system that will allow the company to geolocationally block (or, to use their terms, “withhold”) specific tweets in specific countries. On the company blog, Twitter explained: We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld.
I know many people are upset with Twitter’s announcement that it will now be able to block tweets country by country. There has been a lot of excellent writing / reporting on the content explaining that this is not as bad as it looks. (Check out good posts by my friend Jillian York here or Alex Howard here ). My initial reaction upon a cursory reading of the announcement was also that it wasn’t too bad, given the alternatives.
Earlier this year, Twitter added the ability to block Twitter accounts and tweets by a country-by-country basis , in case it needed to respond to legal requests. Nine months later, the company has done this for the first time, for a hate group based in Germany. The Financial Times spotted the action and reported it in a blog post today . The story come out of information Twitter sent to Chilling Effects last month, part of Twitter’s mechanism for being transparent about censorship requests. The Chilling Effects filing reveals that a Germany ministry (the Ministry of the Interior for Lower-Saxony) had banned the “Besseres Hannover” organization.
In June of 2009, leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising, the Chinese government blocked access by its citizens to Twitter, Flickr and a number of other US-based websites. Social media being already widespread throughout the country, perhaps the Chinese government feared the possibility of events like unfolded elsewhere 18 months later, in what became known as the Arab Spring . Two and a half years later, Twitter remains blocked in China, though many people find ways to make use of it none the less. China isn't the only country that's related to Twitter's announcement last week that the social network will now selectively censor messages country-by-country when it receives "a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity." Debate went on throughout the last week about the policy, but I think there are at least three big questions that remain unanswered. Some have said that this is an unacceptable compromise by Twitter.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo on Monday tried to clarify his company’s position regarding censorship, saying that Twitter will only censor tweets when it is legally required to do so. The company said last week in a blog post that it is now able to censor tweets by country, igniting something of a firestorm over how it will use that power . “There’s been no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitter,” Costolo said, speaking Monday evening at the D: Dive into Media Conference .
Photo: Sabeth Last week, Twitter announced plans to censor tweets in specific countries , but only to local readers. At the same time, it committed itself to publishing each act of censorship at the Chilling Effects clearinghouse .