Geolocation censorship to be applied by Twitter
Twitter announced on 21 January 2012, on its official blog, its intention to introduce geolocation censorship, meaning that certain tweets will be censored in some countries based on different criteria according to the respective countries’ legal framework.
Although a year ago Twitter, in its post “The Tweets must flow”, declared in favour of free expression and proved to be a very useful instrument in the revolutions of the Arab world, supporting the coordination of the mass protests Egypt and by-passing the government censorship in Syria, it has now decided to change its policy.
Twitter’s decision was justified by the “different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression” in the countries. “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’s decision was right away met with criticism from twitters and freedom of speech campaigners. Many of its users declared boycott on 28 January. Reporters Without Borders has expressed its concern in a letter sent to Twitter Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey urging him to reconsider this decision that violates freedom of expression.
Twitter argued that it would apply the geotagging system on a case-by-case basis, when governments or organisations complain about individual tweets. It also stated that the process will be a transparent one by posting the government removal demands on the Chilling Effects website.
EDRi-member EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), one of the partners in the Chilling Effects project, supports Twitter in its argument that the overall effect of the decision will be less censorship rather than more censorship, as the company already used to take things down, only it did it for all users. It also advises users on how to circumvent the blocking. When a message is blocked, “that tweet will not simply disappear-there will be a message informing you that content has been blocked due to your geographical location. Fortunately, your geographical location is easy to change on the Internet. You can use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country. Read Write Web also suggests that you can circumvent per-country censorship by simply changing the country listed in your profile.”
Reporters Without Borders considers as vague Twitter’s explanation that if it receives “a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity,” it may respond by withholding access to certain content in a certain country, notifying the content’s author at the same time. In the organisation’s opinion this may leave room for abuse.
“Are you going to act in response to a court decision? Or, as is the case in China, will just a phone call from a government official or a local police station suffice to justify denying access to content? Are you going to limit yourselves to censoring tweets after they have been posted or, if faced with a flood of official requests, will you establish a system of prior censorship based on subjects or keyword defined by censors?” asks Reporters Without Borders in its letter.
One of the main concerns in also that the site will no longer act as a support in helping dissidents in countries with strong censorship such as China.
US civil liberties website, Demand Progress made an appeal to Twitter: “Twitter’s importance as an open platform has been demonstrated time and again this year. We need you to keep fighting for and enabling freedom of expression – not rationalize away totalitarianism as a legitimate ‘different idea'”
- Letter to Twitter Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey urging him not to cooperate with censors (22.01.2012)
- Tweets still must flow (26.01.2012)
- Twitter users threaten boycott over censorship accusation (27.01.2012)
- What Does Twitter’s Country-by-Country Takedown System Mean for Freedom of Expression? (27.01.2012)
- Twitter uncloaks a year’s worth of DMCA takedown notices, 4,410 in all (28.01.2012)