Twitter is giving itself the facility to withhold content in specific countries, while keeping that content available for the rest of
the world, the company has announced.
Until now, the only way for Twitter to censor content was to universally eliminate it from the site. This change means content deemed inappropriate by a specific government can be withheld locally, explains a blog post called The Tweets Still
When we receive a request from an authorized entity, we will act in accordance with appropriate laws and our terms of service, a Twitter rep told Mashable.
If and when content is withheld, affected users will be notified of either an account or tweet's censorship. Twitter will make that decision public on Chilling Effects, through an expanded partnership that charts Cease and Desist Notices.
Twitter's new approach to censoring tweets has users rallying around the hashtag #TwitterBlackout, a call to boycott the microblogging service.
The change lets Twitter withhold content on a country-by-country basis, when a government deems the tweets inappropriate. Rather than wholly removing the content from the site, it will now only be blocked locally.
Many users have expressed dissatisfaction with the change. Tweets have been streaming in, in various languages, all with the #TwitterBlackout hashtag.
Anonymous has also supported the blackout. One of its tweets read:
SPREAD THE WORD #TwitterBlackout I will not tweet for the whole of January 28th due to the new twitter censor rule #Twitter #J28?
Offsite: What Does Twitter's Country-by-Country Takedown System Mean for Freedom of Expression?
So what should Twitter users do? Keep Twitter honest. First, pay attention to the notices that Twitter sends and to the archive being created on Chilling Effects. If Twitter starts honoring court orders from India to take down tweets
that are offensive to the Hindu gods, or tweets that criticize the king in Thailand, we want to know immediately. Furthermore, transparency projects such as Chilling Effects allow activists to track censorship all over the world, which is the first
step to putting pressure on countries to stand up for freedom of expression and put a stop to government censorship.
What else? Circumvent censorship. Twitter has not yet blocked a tweet using this new system, but when it does, that tweet will not simply disappear---there will be a message informing you that content has been blocked due to your
geographical location. Fortunately, your geographical location is easy to change on the Internet. You can use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country. Read Write Web also suggests that you can circumvent per-country censorship by simply
changing the country listed in your profile.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo took the stage at AllThingsD's media conference to defend the company's new censorship policies. He argued that Twitter's new policies allow for greater freedom of speech on the platform. Previously, when a government demanded
that Twitter remove a tweet or block a user, access to that content would be blocked from the entire world. Now, Twitter can hide the tweet or user from that individual country, but allow the rest of the world to see it. Costello explained:
There's been no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitte. What we announced is a greater capability we now have. Now, when we are issued a valid legal order in a country in which we operate,
such as a DMCA takedown notice, we are able to leave the content up for as many people around the world as possible, while still operating within the local law. You can't operate in these countries and choose the laws you want to abide by.
We don't proactively go do anything. This is purely a reactive capability to what we determine to be a valid and applicable legal order in a country in which we operate. We're fully blocked in Iran and China. And I don't see the
current environment in either country being one in which we could go and operate anytime soon.
The Thai government becomes the first to publicly endorse Twitter's decision to permit country-specific censorship of content
Thai information and communication technology minister, Jeerawan Boonperm, called Twitter's decision a welcome development and said the ministry already received good co-operation from internet companies such as Google and Facebook. The
Thai government would soon be contacting Twitter to discuss ways in which they can collaborate , she told the Bangkok Post.
Thailand has some of the most repressive censorship laws in the world, ranking it 153 out of 178 in Reporters Without Borders' 2011 Press Freedom Index. In particular these are used to target criticism of the monarchy. Lese-majeste laws include
punishments by up to 15 years in prison, but under Thailand's 2007 computer crimes act prosecutors have been able to increase sentences.
Thailand's endorsement could have profound ramifications across the region, said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch Thailand, while it already adds more damage to an already worrying trend in Thailand . Twitter gives space to different opinions
and views, and that is so important in a restricted society -- it gives people a chance to speak up, he said. But if this censorship is welcomed by Thailand, then other countries, with worse records for human rights and freedom of speech, will
find that they have an ally.
A request for an injunction to stop Twitter users from alerting drivers to police roadblocks, radar traps and drunk-driving checkpoints could
make Brazil the first country to take Twitter up on its plan to censor content at governments' requests.
Twitter unveiled plans last month that would allow country-specific censorship of tweets that might break local laws.
As far as we know this is the first time that a country has attempted to take Twitter up on their country-by-country take down, Eva Galperin of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation said: Twitter has given these countries the
tool and now Brazil has chosen to use it, she said.
Carlos Eduardo Rodrigues Alves, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office, said the injunction request was filed Monday. He said a judge was expected to announce in the next few days whether he will issue the order against Twitter users.
In early June, about three weeks before Beyonce's latest album came out, one of her songs, a collaboration with the rapper Andre 3000, made its way to the open seas of the Internet. Twitter recently published a batch of data that sheds light on the leak
and provides insight into how Twitter censors information on the Internet.
It began when a website called RapUp published a link to the song, Party . Someone tweeted the link and lots of people retweeted it. From the perspective of Beyonce's record label, Columbia, this was not cool. So Columbia turned to a
London-based contractor called Web Sheriff, which sent a takedown request to Twitter. It contained a list of over 100 of those copyright-infringing tweets and retweets. Twitter wrote back quickly: We have removed the reported materials from the site.
Twitter has removed thousands of tweets from its site over the years, and last month, it published the more than 4,000 takedown requests that have floated into its inbox since 2009.
Twitter is taking its first step towards censorship.
Chief Executive Dick Costolo who was speaking to the Financial Times, described his frustration in tackling the problem of horrifying abuse. Irresponsible twitter-users apparently find the site ideal for expressing all kinds of extremist, racist
and sexist opinions.
To stop the hate speech anarchy, Twitter is considering starting off by blocking the very possibility of replies from so-called non-authoritative users, marked out by the absence of a profile picture, followers or bio information, as FT.com
reports. This is the first step, but there might be more to come.
However, the company's management is concerned that by installing any kinds of selective measures, they may put an end to the unique Twitter-style freedom of tweets that has helped Arab revolutions.
The reason we want to allow pseudonyms is there are lots of places in the world where it's the only way you'd be able to speak freely, FT quotes Dick Costolo as saying. Twitter is basically the last harbor of anonymity, as it does not have
to be linked with such powerful database platforms as Facebook and Google. Silencing trolls may hit those revolutionary users as well.
In February 2012, Twitter introduced a policy that enables individual tweets and accounts to be blocked on a country-by-country basis. If a government submits a court order to Twitter, asking for a tweet or account to be blocked, Twitter will comply. But
the blocking will only occur in the country in question , to users throughout the rest of the world, the affected content will look no different.
This past October, Twitter enacted this policy for the first time to block tweets from the account of the German extreme right-wing group, Besseres Hannover. The German government has formally banned and seized the assets of the group, and some of its
members have been charged with inciting racial hatred and creating a criminal organization.
The group announced that it would challenge the blocking in court, but as things stand, Twitter's move to block the group's tweets was in accordance with local German law.
Twitter's general counsel, Alex MacGillivray, announced the issue on Twitter and linked to a copy of the request from German police to block the @hannoverticker account in Germany.
Twitter has announced new censorship rules related to tweets deemed to be abusive. Twitter explains in a blog post:
First, we are making two policy changes, one related to prohibited content, and one about how we enforce certain policy violations. We are updating our violent threats policy so that the prohibition is not limited to direct, specific threats of
violence against others but now extends to threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others. Our previous policy was unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behavior. The updated
language better describes the range of prohibited content and our intention to act when users step over the line into abuse.
On the enforcement side, in addition to other actions we already take in response to abuse violations (such as requiring users to delete content or verify their phone number), we're introducing an additional enforcement option that gives our support team
the ability to lock abusive accounts for specific periods of time. This option gives us leverage in a variety of contexts, particularly where multiple users begin harassing a particular person or group of people.
Second, we have begun to test a product feature to help us identify suspected abusive Tweets and limit their reach. This feature takes into account a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account
itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive. It will not affect your ability to see content that you've explicitly sought out, such as Tweets from accounts you follow,
but instead is designed to help us limit the potential harm of abusive content. This feature does not take into account whether the content posted or followed by a user is controversial or unpopular.
Twitter has introduced a new censorship system with the unlikely sounding capability to detect abusive tweets and suspend accounts
without waiting for complaints to be flagged. Transgressions results in the senders receiving half-day suspensions.
The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter's acceptable speech policy and issues users
suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new globally accessible tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers.
From the platform that once called itself the free speech wing of the free speech party, these new tools mark an incredible turn of events. The anti-censorship ethic seems to have been lost in a failed attempt to sell the company after prospective
buyers were unhappy with the lack of censorship control over the platform.
Inevitably Twiiter has refused to provide even outline ideas of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try
to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter's new tool so that they can try and stay within the rules.
It is also unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. Given that the feature is brand-new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is
surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.
And the first example of censorship was quick to follow. Many outlets this morning picked up on a frightening instance of the Twitter algorithm's new power to police not only the language we use but the thoughts we express. In this case a user allegedly
tweeted a response to a news report about comments made by Senator John McCain and argued that it was his belief that the senator was a traitor who had committed formal treason against the nation. Twitter did not respond to a request for more
information about what occurred in this case and if this was indeed the tweet that caused the user to be suspended, but did not dispute that the user had been suspended or that his use of the word traitor had factored heavily into that suspension.
Twitter is continuing its campaign to add controls and warnings to tweets.
It now presents a warning when users click on a profile that may include sensitive content . The warning greys out the profile's tweets, bio and profile picture, but gives users the option to view the profile if they wish.
Twitter used to only mark individual tweets with a sensitivity warning, but has now expanded this to censor whole profiles unless users agree to view them.
The warning message given with the greyed out profile says:
Caution: This profile may include sensitive content. You're seeing this warning because they tweet sensitive images or language. Do you still want to view it?
Twitter did not publicly announce the new feature, and tweeters with profiles being greyed out are not informed by Twitter.