Twitter users clam up to protest new in-country blocking policy

Twitter could see less chatter Jan. 28, as some users stop using the social media platform in protest of its new policy of allowing tweets to be blocked within a country.

A post on the company’s blog  announced the policy Jan. 26, saying that it will allow Twitter to conform with local laws.

“As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” the blog stated. “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.”

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Tweets blocked within a country will still be seen outside that country, which is a new capability for the platform; until now, any blocking had to be done globally. Online powerhouses such as Google and Facebook already have similar policies.

Critics, however, are concerned that the policy would be used to censor dissent in countries such as China, or could undercut social protests such as the Arab Spring, during which Twitter was an essential tool for organization and expression. It was so successful that Egypt even blocked Twitter altogether to try to dampen the uprising in that country, the Register pointed out.

Opponents using the hashtags “#TwitterBlackout” and “#TwitterCensored,” are planning a go-silent protest for Saturday, the Washington Post reported.

In some respects, the protest is an extension of the website blackouts Jan. 18 in protest of of anti-piracy legislation before Congress that critics said would stifle free speech, innovation and Internet commerce.

In an unprecedented event for the Internet, thousands of websites and blogs went dark, leaving only messages protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, and asking people to petition Congress.

Saturday’s Twitter protest might not have the same impact, but it could be an indication the online protests could catch on.

Twitter, meanwhile, says it will be transparent about blocking.

“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,” the company blog stated.

The company also is collaborating with Chilling Effects, a joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and seven universities, to offer a new page listing notices related to Twitter.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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