Twitter just came out with some disturbing news a couple of days ago: the microblogging site has announced that it will withhold content in certain countries, essentially censoring tweets. While the rest of the world will still see the offending tweet, users in the targeted country will not. The move by the hugely popular messaging site was unexpected, considering that the company has previously stated that “The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is both a practical and ethical belief.” And that “From an ethical perspective, 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.”
In a blog post called “The Tweets Still Must Flow”, the company states that content that is deemed inappropriate by a particular country can and will be withed locally, while appearing to the rest of the world. Twitter says that it will contact users whose tweets are affected. Mashable notes that the change comes after Twitter said it would be available in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew and Urdu – languages that are associated with governments that have strict media restrictions.
While we’re sure that Twitter will try its best to maintain transparency when dealing with this particular issue, this change in its policy is huge. Many believe social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in letting the word spread in countries included in the Arab Spring uprisings like Egypt and Tunisia, that had state controlled media. With the new policy in place, Tweets from dissidents can now be blocked by governments, which takes away one of the principal weapons of protesters.