Twitter faces censorship charges

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Twitter faces censorship charges

WASHINGTON — Twitter, championed as a tool of free expression during the Arab Spring, was facing censorship charges on Friday after announcing it can now block tweets on a country-by-country basis if legally required to do so.

By (AFP)

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Published: Fri 27 Jan 2012, 10:41 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:55 PM

San Francisco-based Twitter stressed the move in no way compromised its commitment to free speech, but the backlash was immediate with critics taking to the service itself by the thousands to tweet disappointment and outrage.

“This is very bad news,” said Mahmoud Salem, the Egyptian pro-democracy activist and blogger who tweets using the handle @sandmonkey. “Is it safe to say that #Twitter is selling us out?”

“Yet another low for free speech,” said Jannis Leidel, who tweets as @jezdez.

“All aboard the Censor Ship!” quipped a member of the online hacker group Anonymous on @YourAnonNews.

Some tweeters questioned whether the move was related to a $300 million investment in Twitter in December by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, a country with strong Internet censorship.

Olivier Basille, director of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), expressed “deep concern” in a letter to Jack Dorsey, executive chairman and co-founder of Twitter, which has over 100 million active users.

“By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization,” Basille said.

“Are you going to block the accounts of Syrian cyberdissidents if the Syrian authorities tell you to do so?” he asked. “Will Russian Internet users see their criticisms of the government censored?”

Basille questioned whether Twitter’s move was motivated by a desire to enter China, where the service is currently banned.

“Is it possible that one day there will be a sanitized Chinese version of Twitter that has been rid of any reference to the Chinese Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo?” he asked.

In its blog post, Twitter said the ability to block tweets by specific country would allow the rest of the world to continue to see them.

Twitter pledged to be transparent and said it would post details of any incidents involving the removal of content to, a public database of takedown requests.

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

Technology bloggers said Twitter, by giving itself the technical ability to selectively block content for legal reasons, was falling in line with practices already followed by other Web giants such as Google, Facebook and eBay.

“Unfortunately, it’s a logical step for a platform that wants to be accepted worldwide,” said Devin Coldewey, writing on TechCrunch. “Some companies have to make serious concessions in the way they do business in order to satisfy the whims of local business magnates, secret police, and religious leaders.”

Danny Sullivan, chief editor of and, said “these types of censorship demands have long been placed against search engines like Google or anyone who hosts content.

“Twitter is preparing for potential demands in the way that Google already does, by alerting its users to when content has been withheld and providing information about why,” Sullivan said on

He noted that Twitter has already been removing content to comply with copyright complaints.

“What’s new is that eventually, Twitter may expand to having staff based in other countries,” he said. “That makes the company more liable to legal actions in those countries, so it needs a way to comply with those legal demands.

“Overall, there doesn’t seem to be a particular reason to hit the panic button here,” Sullivan said.

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