Twitter's PR department is more skilled than I thought.

I too was guilty of assuming that when Twitter said, "Now we can censor per-country instead of globally" that it meant that they had, in fact, ever censored even a single tweet globally at the request of a foreign government. They conned me into repeating their fiction as well.

Well played, Evil PR Masterminds. Well played.

Twitter's early-bird special on censorship

That said, Twitter also tried to gloss over its policy change, making it easy to believe that it would result in less censorship than is currently the case.

"Until now," Twitter wrote, "the only way we could take account of those countries' limits was to remove content globally."

The way they put it, you'd think it might have happened once or twice. But until now, Twitter has never taken account of other countries' limits and never removed tweets globally because of them.

Like a "special offer" tag with a conspicuously visible original price that was never actually charged, this encourages the reader to think that someone, somewhere, was already paying in full. It hides the current tally: zero tweets blocked at the request of foreign governments or for material not illegal in the U.S. [...]

"Previously, when a government demanded that Twitter remove a tweet or block a user, access to that content would be blocked from the entire world," wrote Mashable's Lauren Indvik, about government demands that were in fact ignored.

"The new system would allow countries and private businesses to submit complaints [over] Germany's strict laws against pro-Nazi speech or China's laws against criticizing the government. ... Previously, when Twitter received such a request, its only option was to take down the tweet on a global level, making it inaccessible from any country," wrote the AP, about requests that were never acted upon.

"Previously, the tweet would disappear for everyone," reported CNN, about tweets that never disappeared previously.

"Until now, when Twitter has taken down content, it has had to do so globally," wrote the EFF's Eva Galperin, referring to political censorship, not mere DMCA takedowns: "For example, if Twitter had received a court order to take down a tweet that is defamatory to Ataturk--which is illegal under Turkish law--the only way it could comply would be to take it down for everybody ... the overall effect is less censorship rather than more censorship, since they used to take things down for all users."

Twitter confirmed to me that it has never censored a tweet at the request of a government. Not about Ataturk, not about the King of Thailand, nor anyone else. The blurring of domestic copyright takedowns with political criticism abroad is bad enough. But to describe more censorship as "less censorship" by comparing it to even worse hypothetical censorship is a caricature of free expression.

No surprise, then, that Thailand (where criticizing royalty is a criminal offense) was the first government to publicly praise Twitter's new policy.

And, always aiming for second place in the social-networking world, Google isn't far behind: Google Will Start Country-Specific Censorship for Blogs.


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2 Responses:

  1. Notthebuddha says:

    The chocolate ration has been increased to twenty grammes. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

  2. DFB says:

    I pretty much stopped tweeting when #ows and #occupy were trending everywhere but the US back in September. The continuous claim that trending tags are algorithmic instead of curated is so simple to disprove. Also, John Adams told me to use Google Pipes to allow >2000 followed!