How tweet it isn't: Twitter's new censorship policies

Twitter has announced that it will allow governments to censor some (but not all) tweets. Did they really have any other choice?

Yesterday Twitter announced a policy change that has the Twitterati flapping about like bluebirds trying to hoist a Fail Whale.

In 140 characters or less: Twitter is now supporting local censorship of tweets.

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Per the Twitter 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. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.

Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries' limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country -- while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

You can interpret this in one of two ways: As Twitter capitulating to repressive governments (including American allies like India and Israel), or as Twitter minimizing the damage by keeping said governments from attempting to block all of Twitter or cut off all access to the Internet, which we've seen attempted on more than a few occasions.

Of course, blocking all of Twitter also hurts Twitter. You can't charge money for sponsored tweets if nobody can read them.

Contrast this with the bold stance Twitter took last January, though, and it reads more like capitulation. Last year, during the height of the Egyptian uprising, Twitter had this to say:

At Twitter, we have identified our own responsibilities and limits. There are Tweets that we do remove, such as illegal Tweets and spam. However, we make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule -- we strive not to remove Tweets on the basis of their content. For more on what we allow and what we don't, please see this help page.

Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users' right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.

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