Twitter to selectively 'censor' tweets by country

Twitter Twitter said it would be transparent about which tweets had been removed.

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Twitter has announced that it now has the technology to selectively block tweets on a country by country basis.

In its blog, Twitter said it could "reactively withhold content from users in a specific country".

But it said the removed content would be available to the rest of the world. Previously when Twitter deleted a tweet, it would disappear worldwide.

The decision has been criticised by the freedom of information advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

The move comes at a time when Twitter is in the process of expanding its global business.

In its blog post, Twitter explained that its international growth meant entering countries "that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression", citing France or Germany which ban pro-Nazi content as examples.

"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," the company said in a blog post titled Tweets Must Flow.

"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," it added.

A number of Twitter users have expressed dismay over the move, with some pointing out the adverse impact it would have on free speech, especially outside the US.


Reporters Without Borders said it had concerns about the new measures.

"In the bigger scheme of things it just opens up the floodgates," spokeswoman Heather Blake told the BBC.

"It allows for Twitter or other internet organisations to censor things. Freedom of information, and freedom of the press can be compromised.

"It would be interesting to ask them what research they have done to show this will help in any way by censoring tweets within countries. Is it problematic, or are they getting pressured by certain organisations or certain regimes within the countries in order to continue to function there?"

In response to the criticism, the microblogging site said: "In general this would be a response to a valid legal request from a government. Our policies and our philosophy towards recognising freedom of expression has not changed - this is simply a clarification to how we respond to legal requirements."

Twitter, along with other social networking sites like Facebook, has played a vital - if disputed - role in organising everything from the Arab Spring to the London riots in 2011, according to the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

However, the service - which said it had more than 100 million active users as of September 2011 - has also had to balance local laws with free speech in the process.

The blog statement acknowledged that Twitter would not be able to operate in all countries, saying: "Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there."

Twitter is blocked in China, where microblogging alternatives known as Weibo have surged in popularity in the past year.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    There goes free speech - Twitter may be pressured to 'ban' certain individuals or groups from relaying important information in 'delicate' situations some dictators may not favour - yikes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I don't use Twitter or FB due to the absolute tripe that gets posted there.Freedom of speech?Look at some of the comments posted on videos in U Tube, if thats free speech then its back to school for a majority who can only post expletives and come across as being thick as a plank.I wouldn't say remove those comments,they should stay to show the ignorance of those who posted them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I don't understand why some people here blame Twitter for trying to comply with the law in a way that will least affect its users elsewhere? Do you expect cooperations just to ignore the laws of your country? Why should they then do it elsewhere?

    If you object to censorship, blame the politicians that make it possible.

    But expecting firms to take the law into their own hand is just silly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I have no time for twitter or facebook and find it surprising that these uninteresting, banal parts of the net get so much determined attention from the media. This change is quite alarming though when seen in combination with google's recent privacy changes, the fbi wanting to scrape the net and the sopa internet-takeover attempt

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Unacceptable. Guess I'd better set up an alternative micro-blogging system that does not tolerate censorship except the self-censorship of its users: YOU are responsible for what you upload, and YOU are responsible for what you choose to read.


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