A worldwide boycott by the “twitterrati” erupted Friday after Twitter announced a new policy allowing it to censor messages on a country-by-country basis.
“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. 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 wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
Twitter said that it can now “reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”
The social media website said it would attempt to let the user know when they withhold a Tweet in a specific country. In an effort to increase transparency, Twitter has expanded its partnership with Chilling Effects to make complaints to Twitter publicly available.
But many people have expressed fears that Twitter’s commitment to free speech may be weakening as the social media website expands into new countries in an attempt to broaden its audience and revenue. In reaction to Twitter’s decision, the “Twitterrati” unleashed a barrage of angry tweets in several languages, calling for a Twitter black out.
“Clearly, there’s a huge user-backlash against this latest move by Twitter. It was seen as one of the few platforms that was free of any kind of censorship, heavily used by users during the Arab Spring, for instance,” blogger Mike Butcher said.
“I’m afraid it’s a slippery slope of censorship. I understand why Twitter is doing this: they want to be able to enter more countries and deal with the local laws. But as Google learned, in China, when you become the agent of the censor, there are problems there,” said Jeff Jarvis, a social media commentator.
But Twitter, which has prided itself on promoting unfettered expression, has defended its decision.
“The Tweets must continue to flow,” Twitter wrote on Friday in its blog.
Referring to the Arab spring, Miriam Smith, a media law professor says the new guidelines make things more difficult but not impossible.
“It’s not like we never had uprisings until we had Twitter,” Smith said.