Twitter is on the defensive over its new tweet-filtering policy, which it considers a progressive, forward-looking approach to complying with local laws around the globe.
If a particular tweet might be illegal in one country — such as a pro-Nazi sentiment, which would be illegal in Germany and France — Twitter will block it in the country or countries in which it is forbidden but allow it to display in the rest of the global Twitter network.
Twitter will indicate to users in the countries in question that a tweet has been blocked, and why. It is expanding it partnership with Chilling Effects with a new page designed to make it easier to find notices related to Twitter.
‘Censorship,’ ‘Cop Out’ and Other Labels
It seems many don’t see the move from Twitter’s perspective. “Censorship” was a common theme in headlines and editorials published in response to last week’s. Many casual readers of these stories could easily assume that Twitter was proactively supporting a repressive regime’s body of law.
Which, technically speaking, it is. However, the company insists it has taken a carefully thought out approach to what is a difficult matter.
The reactions of some careful observers of social media, however — such as Daniel M. Ladik, associate professor of marketing at Seton Hall University — must be stinging to Twitter execs.
“It is a cop out,” Ladik told TechNewsWorld. “Twitter is acquiescing without even much of a fight when it should be leading the charge.”
Ladik wasn’t impressed with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s defense of the new policy. Speaking at Dive Into Media, Costolo characterized the changes as a way to ensure that more people see tweets.
“There’s been no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitter,” Costolo said. “It is simply not the case that you can operate in these countries and choose which of the laws you want to abide by.”
Costolo comes off as “very corporate” in his response, Ladik said.
“He wanted to clear up all the spin and erroneous stories running around in the blogoshere. He tried to brush it off as nothing more than ‘being prepared’ when Twitter is ‘legally obligated’ to take action and shut down Twitter in a particular country.”
Bottom line, Ladik said: “He’s not very inspirational. As important a topic as this has been recently, he made it sound like Twiiter is just a growing company and it needs to start taking care of bigger operational initiatives now.”
Twitter did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
In Twitter’s Defense
Twitter’s defenders argue there is not enough appreciation for the difficult dance that it — and other Western Web-based companies — must perform if they want to function across the globe.
Google, for instance, tried to comply with China’s censorship restrictions and eventually pulled out of the country because it said it could not remain true to its mission of providing information.
Yahoo, in a much-publicized case several years ago, did comply with local laws in China when the government asked for information to identify online posters of political views that were in violation of China’s law. Yahoo turned over the information, and as a result, Wang Xiaoning was tortured and given a 10-year prison sentence. The company was roundly criticized — and was later sued for its actions as well.
What Happens Behind the Scenes Stays Behind the Scenes
“Twitter does not celebrate its role in facilitating censorship, but to the extent that U.S. businesses look to operate in countries where governments are oppressive, complying with local rules is the only option,” Ryan Radia, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told TechNewsWorld. “Otherwise, a company would not be allowed to do business in those countries, which benefits no one.”
It is possible that Twitter tries to pressure governments behind the scenes to be more free and open, Radia speculated, “but it is unreasonable to expect any company will be able to change the mind of a government. Countries such as Iran and China have shown themselves perfectly willing to block foreign Internet services.”
A lot of the fuss on the part of critics is besides the point, according to Michael Hussey, CEO of PeekYou.
“In a lot of these countries, Twitter isn’t even allowed anyway,” he told TechNewsWorld.
In countries where it is allowed, but censorship has taken place, Hussey thinks Twitter’s solution of advertising that a tweet has been removed is actually a step forward.
“Before, when Twitter removed a tweet, it was like it never happened — there was no record of it. Now, at least people will know something has happened and can probably guess at the content as well.”