Twitter Teaches Us An Important Lesson

I’m late coming to this party, but it took me awhile to really settle down on what I wanted to say about this mess.

Recently, Twitter announced that they have added the ability to remove certain tweets, by users from a specific country. The old method, was to remove all the tweets from a user from the entire network, but now they have the ability to just remove individual tweets from certain countries.

Twitter Censorship

I understand why Twitter did it. To a degree, I think it’s a great move that they now have the ability to remove individual “offending tweets” rather than the entire twitter stream of a user from the entire network. I applaud them for figuring out a way to “use a scalpel, instead of a sledge hammer.”

This is what Twitter had to say about it on their blog:

 

“The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact … almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.”

As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. 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.

The biggest problem that I have with this is: Who determines what content is objectionable and/ or subject to removal? I also wonder, how will twitter determine that they have received a valid legal request to remove content? What if a “valid legal request” comes from an authoritarian regime like the one in Syria?

I think that there are pretty point blank cases when it comes to hate speech, but what about in other cases or times when things are open to interpretation?

Could the Mayor of Oakland, or some other government official, request that Twitter remove tweets from people trying to organize an “Occupy Wall Street” protest under these same “valid and legal” guidelines or under the guise of “public safety?” We already know and have seen reports of the City of San Francisco shutting down the cell phone service in BART stations, and we already know that a lot of the accusations against the OWS protestors were false, so where is the line?

What does this action by twitter teach us?

It teaches us that we cannot become dependent on any one means of communicating and organizing. Whether online or offline, we need to make sure that we have multiple means of getting messages to the people that we care about.

This action also teaches us that globalization changes things. I doubt that back in 2007 the founders of twitter thought that twitter would help organize protests in Egypt, or Iran, or New York for that matter.

Lastly, twitter has taught us that once services get big, they become subject to greater scrutiny.

As services grow, they are more susceptible to threats of congressional investigations (Facebook) and to threats of losing funding when and if they should need to hit up the vulture venture capital firms again. I’m not saying that this is what happened with twitter, I’m just saying that there may be other forces at work here beyond “cultural sensitivity.”

What do you think?

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