The Internet welcomes a new censor: Twitter!

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Twitter announced last Thursday (January 26) through a blogpost, http://blog.twitter.com/“Tweets still must flow”, that it has refined its filtering technology so it can censor messages on a country-by-country basis.

This new censorship flexibility is due to the fact that Twitter is entering countries that have different ideas of freedom of expression. Therefore, according to the post, without this new censorship tool, Twitter could not exist in these countries. Expending in these countries means for Twitter to submit to local laws whose content is far away from the free-expression protections guaranteed under the first amendment in the US.

Sure enough, before, when Twitter erased a tweet, it disappeared throughout the world. Now, thanks to the filtering technology, a tweet containing content breaking a national law can be taken down only in that country and thus still be seen elsewhere. And whenever a tweet is removed, Twitter will post a censorship notice in order to inform its users. However, Twitter wants to perform its new censor role in the most transparent way for its users and therefore it plans to share the removal requests received from governments, companies and individuals at the chillingeffects.org website. As written in the blogpost: «We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The tweets must continue to flow».

This new Twitter’s policy is quite disappointing, in particular if you consider the key role played by tweets in political protests throughout the world, most notably in the Egypt’s uprising last year. Twitter, an acknowledged instrument of freedom, has abdicated this role in order to get more money entering new countries where it was previously banned. In so doing, Twitter will expand its audience from about 100 million active uses to more than 1 billion.

Twitter bows down in front of major economic gains: capitalism versus democracy and freedom of expression? Surely the announced additional flexibility is likely to raise fears that Twitter’s commitment to free speech may be weakening.

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