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By 12 March 2012 | Categories: feature articles

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It seems as if not even this generation's champion of free speech, microblogging platform Twitter, is completely immune from the insidious threat of censorship.

Warning bells began ringing earlier this year, when Twitter announced that it was able to censor tweets by their country of origin. This alarmed users, who pointed out that the former "free speech wing of the free speech party" was in effect betraying its original mandate. Twitter responded by clarifying that it would only step in if legally compelled to censor a tweet, and even so, this would only apply to the country of its origin - users from other countries would still be able to view the offending tweet.

In practise, this could give rise to the rather bizarre scenario in which the rest of the world is able to view tweets about a political uprising for example, except for those living in the country in which the event is taking place.

Free speech under threat?

Adding fuel to the fire, the company stated that as it continued to grow internationally, it would "enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression". This was the more ominous part of the announcement - as some countries for example, claim to permit freedom of speech so long as no objection is raised against the regime. In those areas, it's not impossible to imagine that tweets about the latest movie or weather would be safe, but tweets about government abuse of power would not.

Blocked tweets will show which country banned it, while the offending tweet will also be mentioned on the Chilling Effects (http://chillingeffects.org/twitter) website, along with providing the reasons why this tweet was banned. One interesting outcome of this approach is that it could lead users to being able to monitor censorship on a country specific basis

To the point

The net result though, is that users have already begun questioning whether the company had sacrificed free speech and its original purpose on the altar of greater profitability, and in its bid to extend its global reach and achieve one billion users.

We suspect that the true test of Twitter's fortitude only lies ahead. Whether it will favour and thus passively protect governments and their leaders from the tweets of their populace, or prove itself as truly a people's champion and a bastion of free speech in the face of censorship's siren's call, remains to be seen as the year unfolds. [RN]

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