Photo by Jeremy Keith . (MintPress)—A new tool on Twitter is causing a buzz amongst anti-censorship activists, and those concerned by a wave of recent efforts to restrict the freedom of expression on the world wide web. Twitter posted, on it’s corporate blog this week entitled “The Tweets Still Must Flow” which read, “As we continue […]
(MintPress)—A new tool on Twitter is causing a buzz amongst anti-censorship activists, and those concerned by a wave of recent efforts to restrict the freedom of expression on the world wide web.
Twitter posted, on it’s corporate blog this week entitled “The Tweets Still Must Flow” which read, “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. 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. … Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it up in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”
Twitter’s new tool will enable it to block Tweets on a country-by-country basis. So, in theory, someone could Tweet a message, and the tool would allow it to be seen only in select areas. A company spokesperson told the Washington Post that it will first notify the user (where legally possible), then provide notice to users in the country that blocks the content when a message has been withheld. Twitter will, however, continue to make the content available in every other part of the world.
Critics are voicing concern over the measure, which they see as a road block to a free and open society . One blogger writes, “Hmmm. Maybe I’m missing something, but it’s hard to see this as anything but a huge setback and disappointment, given Twitter’s laudable history on human rights, privacy, and freedom of expression—and the critical role the service played in global popular uprisings over the last year.”
The same source pointed out that last month:
Saudi Prince Al-waleed made a $300 million investment in Twitter – which raises questions about the timing of the company’s announcement, given the role social media sites played in the Arab Spring movements. Especially since many of the reforms called for in the Arab world by protesters, such as an end to dictatorships or absolute monarchies, human rights violations, government corruption, economic decline, unemployment and extreme poverty, are all issues with a cartographic link to the Saudi empire.
A recent article in the New York Times detailed that in light of the events of the Arab Spring, the Saudi ruling family
“is nervously reassessing a very different world. From Egypt, where the Saudis dispensed $4 billion in aid in late May to shore up the ruling military council, to Yemen, where it worked for months to ease out the president, to the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, which it has invited to join a union of Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia has been flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the region in a wide-ranging bid to forestall more radical change.”
On the heels of the Arab Spring protests a group of women activists across Saudi Arabia organized a Facebook campaign to push for Saudi women’s participation in public affairs. The campaign, called Baladi, was launched after the Saudi government announced in March that it would deny women their right to political participation in the upcoming September 2011 elections. The country, which still bans women from driving, granted women the right to vote and run for political office in September.
Twitter was undoubtedly a bedrock for the Arab Spring movements last year, and the threat of violence in Saudi Arabia. As Time notes, it was a “threat that failed to materialize, thanks to an abruptly conjured $130 billion subsidies spending package.” Bernhard Warner, co-founder of the analysis and advisory firm Social Media Influence, told Reuters:
“The Arab world, of course, knows full well the value of Twitter. In the past year, it has been a force in politics, in regime change, so there is not a single person in that region in a position of influence who is not following the increasing power of Twitter.”
Given Al-waleed’s sizable investment, the question of whether the measure is part of the same effort to quell dissent is one which begs further exploration.
And Saudis aren’t the only ones to with something to lose courtesy of the new Twitter policy. Bloggers and activists from the greater Middle East, China and Latin America have expressed fears that government will now be enabled to censor message. Stifling free expression, according to the Associated Press, which also spoke with social media commentator Jeff Jarvis. “I understand why Twitter is doing this — they want to be able to enter more countries and deal with the local laws. But, as Google learned in China, when you become the agent of the censor, there are problems there,” Jarvis said.
Critics of Twitter’s new move point out that it flies in contradiction to the company’s similarly titled blog post, “The Tweets Must Flow” from last year, which proclaimed, “The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. 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.”
Exactly how Twitter’s latest modification will help the site achieve it’s goal “to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them” remains to be seen.