I’ve been watching a story float around for the last few days about how Twitter is censoring people. There was apparently a black-out for some folks yesterday to protest this Twensorship. If you read or scan the headlines, it looks like Twitter is censoring people on a country by country basis. The Huffington Post ran a headline that said, “Twitter Boycott Palnned To Protest Twitter’s Censorship Plan.” CBSNews.com ran a story titled ” Twitter’s Censorship Plan Rouses Global Furor.” With these types of headlines and stories in mind, I broached the topic on Twitter and ended up in quite an interesting conversation with Sandy Hubbard (@sandyhubbard) and Cynthia Schames (@CynthiaSchames).
As it turns out, Twitter may be getting attention for things it is not doing. In an article for Reuters titled, “Twitter’s censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter,” Paul Smalera notes that it is not Twitter that is actively blocking tweets. Rather, certain governments are asking that Twitter block content. Smalera writes,
Further, for a country to censor content, it has to make a “valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity” to Twitter, which will then decide what to do with the request. Twitter will also make an effort to notify users whose content is censored about what happened and why, and even give them a method to challenge the request. According to Twitter’s post, a record of the action will also be filed to the Chilling Effects website. The end result of a successful request is that the tweet or user in question is replaced by a gray box that notifies other readers inside the censoring country that the Tweet has been censored…
In essence, some could argue that Twitter is actually helping to highlight countries that do not allow free speech.
Internet versus the world
The overriding question to me is whether Twitter should pay credence to these governmental requests. The capitalistic argument is that in order to operate in a country, you have to work within that country’s framework. Google has world of experience in fighting governmental restrictions in China. It was noted in our conversation that countries are asking that content deemed “criminal” should be blocked. All well and good, but sometimes “criminal” can have a pretty wide berth. As a small example, I found this interesting Wikipedia page that delineates freedom of speech by country. Did you know it is illegal to blaspheme against religion in many countries? Did you know it’s illegal in France to create content that promotes race hatred? Do people in every country know 100% what the restrictions on their freedom of expression are? Will these little gray boxes come as a complete and total surprise? Can we revolt against things we aren’t aware are there?
The slippery slope of freedom
Defining the freedom of expression in a way that makes everyone happy is extremely difficult. I abhor racism. However, if I argue that yes, race hatred should be banned in the online world so far as content goes, am I really for freedom of expression? There are a lot of points of view that I find offensive. If I say that they should be censored because they bother me, isn’t that an awfully slippery slope?
Adding more complexity to the problem is that Twitter has a rather hands-off approach when it comes to issues of cyber-bullying. They will not block a person you accuse of bullying. Their company line is that you should call the authorities if you feel you are in danger. If we say that potentially harmful content is ok to censor, should we not have a plan in place to ban content that actually IS harming people in real time?
These are all complicated questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts about them!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isaacmao/9753846/ via Creative Commons