New tweets may soon be sweeping the Twittersphere carrying a message some may not like — “this tweet has been withheld.” Under Twitter’s new censorship policy, certain tweets may be withheld if they violate a country’s laws.
Twitter announced new guidelines last month that allow the social network to withhold people’s tweets based on freedom of expression policies in specific countries. In a blog post titled “Tweets still must flow,” Twitter officials said this policy will be reactive in nature and the company will only withhold tweets when required to do so by a valid and applicable legal request. While Twitter has not enforced these new guidelines as of now, officials said they will notify users if their tweets have been withheld.
“As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” officials said in the Jan. 26 statement. “Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.”
Such countries include France and Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content. Other countries may have similar freedom of expression policies as those in the U.S. but for historical or cultural reasons restrict certain types of content, according to the statement.
The UT Austin Twitter page currently has more than 21,000 followers and has published more than 1,400 tweets. University spokesman Gary Susswein said the new policies will not affect how and what the University tweets.
“We always exercise caution in the topics, tone and language we are tweeting,” Susswein said.
Michael Morton, journalism senior and Senate of College Councils communications director, manages the UT Senate Twitter account and said he was not worried about Senate’s tweets being censored because the tweets are about new legislation and editorials written by the Senate leadership team.
“We don’t have such a boisterous opinion on things that could get us censored,” Morton said. “It’s a difference between censoring about something that’s illegal versus censoring based on difference of opinion.”
With this new policy, Twitter will now join the ranks of companies like Google who remove select content because of requests from government agencies and courts around the world.
In 2011, Google reported receiving three requests from China to remove 121 items from their servers that violated local advertising guidelines and complied. The same year Google also received various requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies to remove YouTube videos displaying police brutality and did not respond to the requests, according to its website.
Law professor David Anderson said he doubts the effects of Twitter’s new policy will affect people in the U.S. Anderson said policies such as Twitter’s have contributed to the rise in debate over Internet censorship in the past few years. He said the policy will delight countries which have strict censorship, such as China, and restrict the freedom of speech of political dissidents who may use Twitter as a form of communication.
“At one point, people had the naïve belief that things like social networking sites were going to be forms of free speech and be free of commercialization,” Anderson said. “That was never likely true because businesses were going to do what’s right for business — that’s what Twitter is doing.”
Printed on, February 7, 2012 as: Tweets may be censored soon