Twitter’s censorship plans face charges, blackout call by users
WASHINGTON - Agence France-PresseTwitter, championed as a tool of free expression during the Arab Spring, was facing censorship charges on Jan. 27 after announcing it can now block tweets on a country-by-country basis if legally required to do so.
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 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, or @jezdez.
Some Twitters users called for a boycott of the service on Jan. 28, punctuating their tweets with the hashtag #TwitterBlackout.
Others questioned whether Twitter’s move was related to a $300 million investment in December by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, a country with strong Internet censorship.
‘Hurting cyber dissidents’
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 cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization,” he said.
Zeynep Tüfekçi, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said that far from promoting censorship, Twitter’s move was a “model policy.”
“Twitter’s latest policy is purposefully designed to allow Twitter to exist as a platform as broadly as possible while making it as hard as possible for governments to censor content, either tweet by tweet or more, all the while giving free-speech advocates a lot of tools to fight censorship,” Tüfekçi said in her blog.
“It would result in more countries (trying) to block Twitter completely,” she said.