The latest Twitter nonsense

So, Twitter changed their policy from "if anyone in the world issues a take-down, we take it down globally" to "now we only take it down in the country that issued the take-down."

I guess you could see "we support tyranny in each country individually" as an improvement over "we treat the whole world as the least common denominator of the world's most tyrannous country in which we want to make money" as an improvement. If you have very low expectations.

"But," you may say, "They have no choice but to obey the law in all the countries in which they have offices." That's true, but I must have missed the article about someone holding a gun to their head and forcing them to open offices there. So they chose to make themselves an uncomfortable bed to lie in. How about that.

When you're in the business of providing a communications medium -- or, if you happen to have a moral compass of any kind -- there are some people you just shouldn't do business with, because it makes you part of the problem.

They said:

One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user's voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can,
and omitted,
...unless that interferes with our ability to make a buck.
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16 Responses:

  1. Erbo says:

    Need I remind you?

    Corporations are not evil. That kind of anthropomorphism is inappropriate. Corporations are too stupid to be evil, only people can be that. Corporations are mechanisms. People can influence them, but by and large, corporations just follow the rules.

    Bear in mind that, for a publicly-traded company, if a CEO makes a decision because it's the right thing rather than because it's the most profitable thing for the shareholders, he will lose his job, and possibly be sued into oblivion. That's the way the rules work.

    Of course, this is slightly off point because Twitter isn't publicly traded (yet), but you can probably replace "shareholders" with "venture capitalists" in that quote and get pretty close to the mark.

    Alternatively, the VCs wouldn't sue Dick Costolo, they'd just toss him out on his ass and replace him with someone who would do the aforementioned most-profitable thing. It's a toss-up as to which of those outcomes would be worse.

    (That's one of my favorite quotes to trot out to describe "why corporations do horrible, mean, nasty, outrageous things," incidentally.)

    • jwz says:

      In what way is that even remotely in conflict with what I said? You may notice that the very article you are quoting is about how I found myself facing the prospect of working for a company whose business practices I despised, and so I quit.

      Corporations can't be evil because corporations are not people. Unless you believe that they are people, in which case they are all psychopaths.

      • Erbo says:

        No, corporations aren't people, and the legal fiction that they are has done about as much damage as anything I can think of. Corporations should only have rights insofar as they reflect the rights of the people that form them. But I digress...

        No, there's no conflict. But I bet AOL didn't really care what you thought of their policies, or that you resigned because of them. Neither does Twitter care what we think of what they're doing. Corporations are not only mechanisms, but they are mechanisms that are completely and utterly incapable of giving a shit.

        Perhaps in the coming days we'll hear of some Twitter employee who showed the sense of morality you did, and quit rather than support these practices. Perhaps not.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      It's not even quite right anyway. The founders and latterly the shareholders (as owners) get to decide what the purpose of the corporation is, and it is actually unusual to choose "profit at all costs" as the objective. Also, there is no need to replace "shareholders" with "venture capitalists". The way VCs control a company they have funded is by being its majority shareholders. The only companies without shareholders are sole traders, partnerships and other small outfits where one or two people are on the hook for its actions.

  2. Xah Lee says:

    but looked at the bigger picture, i think twitter is one of the better business regarding free speech.

    For example, the challenged on the US court covert request for wikileaks tweets, when they didn't have to. That's all i know.

    • jwz says:

      They have absolutely done some very good things, and deserve to be commended for those things.

      Overall, they are stellar compared to Facebook or Google.

      But, as I said: low expectations.

      • At Flickr, we had to jump similar hoops because France has silly laws about photographs of art, and Germany has silly laws about images of Nazi memorabilia. (It amuses me to this day that there was an "is_nazi" boolean field.)

        As you know a lot of company founders start out with high ideals as well as a desire to make money. You start out wanting to provide a great communications medium, and if you're lucky you succeed, changing the world just a little bit. And then the world's legislators start sending you nasty letters. And then you have the choice of walking away and letting your less idealistic competitors own the product space, or trying to carry on anyway.

        As for Flickr I'm not sure anyone ever threatened to quit because Germans didn't want to see old Nazi medals. That's a law passed by a democracy.

        It gets more and more questionable when you do the same for regimes you know to be repressive. Google told themselves that they ought to go into China because they were better for free speech than the local equivalents. There were lots of Chinese-born Googlers that internally urged the company to do so. And about an equal number that argued that Google should stay out. But when push comes to shove, it's about staying relevant; can you really be a global search engine and NOT be in China? Pretty soon Google was congratulating itself on algorithmically determining the absolute minimum number of searches to block.

        I don't think Twitter is going to be playing ball with Syria any time soon. However, they probably will for places like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. If I was working there I'd definitely be really disturbed by that.

  3. AutoJack says:

    I remember casting a skeptical eye over the Twitter interviewer I met with in 2008, who cited, "helping Iranian dissidents," as one of the issues of deeper importance when I asked how they would eventually become an economically viable business. That's right, we're too busy coordinating democratic revolutions around the world to worry about our business plan. (I'm not a Twitter hater, I just thought that response was deeply self-aggrandizing given the question.)

  4. @thorfi says:

    International jurisdictional issues make that more complicated than you might think.

    If you're running a website hosted purely in the US, run purely in the US, but you have users in another jurisdiction, you can certainly be affected by laws in that jurisdiction, especially so if that country has any kind of extradition agreements.

    The US does this in reverse all the time (Megaupload, anyone?), and it's far from the only country to do so.

    If twitter were to cease serving to that jurisdiction entirely (as Google did with a while back), that might solve their problem. It might also be less helpful than obeying the laws of that jurisdiction whilst you're conducting business in that jurisdiction (i.e., sending content to there).

  5. Antihec says:

    there are some people you just shouldn't do business with, because it makes you part of the problem.

    Well. Most tweet take downs right now seem to be based on shit US law. dmca and the like:

    So, not having to censor links to torrents (cause that seems to be all they - have to - take down right now) globally, but only in crazy-ass US jurisdiction would feel like an improvement to the rest of the world.

    Greetings from Europe

  6. Cow says:

    Think this might be related to the Saudis and their $300 million investment in Twitter?

    Surely not...

    (I love how this entire stupid fastcompany article is an explanation on how this won't lead to Twitter censorship. And written only a month ago, at that.)

  7. Well, HOPEFULLY some "progressive coders" will band together and create a better, more flexible Twitter clone that's NOT US-based. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery. Imagine if universities and colleges the world over used some of their computing resources to host a massive Twitter-like web application that's robust and scales well? So, in essence, the network would be owned by the public. Just my 2 cents.

    BTW, Facebook with its 700+ million users is another network that can easily be pressured to comply with the Feds when shit hits the fan. Again, such an "influential" network would be better off if it was duplicated, but with a decentralized ownership. Perhaps this will encourage more talk on novel ways to create shared content (or networks) that has a global reach.

    • jwz says:

      There are like 30 Twitter clones already, and Diaspora is still useless. So... you know... good luck with that.

  8. ryanlrussell says:

    Why is your standard for legal compliance "offices in that country"? I would have ASSumed that they would have to comply if they want their packets to be able to enter that country.

    • jwz says:

      It may surprise you to learn that most countries don't do national packet filtering.

      If they don't have employees in the country, there's nobody to arrest, short of extradition, which is really, really hard.