Special Feature: Is Twitter Flirting With Self – Censorship?

Twitter has established itself as the poster child (social network) of Rebellion against Governments. The evil one’s anyway! When you look at the uprisings last year in Egypt and Libya, you will realize the role Twitter played. In India, Twitter was used to drive awareness about Jan Lokpal and Anna Hazare. It has established itself as the safest bastion of free-speech and anonymity. Twitter allows anonymous accounts as opposed to Facebook and Google+.

Everyone feels that even though these other social networks are getting carried away by this whole ‘real name’ thing, Twitter is the safe hideout for those who wish to remain anonymous on the Internet. Looks like this is going to change soon.Twitter has now announced via its blog that they have affected certain changes on its network which will allow it to remove certain sensitive tweets coming from a country if asked to do so by law. This is pretty shocking!

They are assuring us before we take umbrage to this, that they will try their best to not do it but sometimes their hands may be tied. Personally, we think this is the undoing many years of work Twitter has put into becoming what it has. This is their rationale: “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.”

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. Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to re-actively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

However, apologetic Twitter may sound over this announcement, we are not buying it. Let us come to terms over this first. They are enabling an infrastructure which will scour tweets and block them.  Something, Kapil Sibal will be very happy about! We are sure requests will soon be sent by our Government at the drop of a hat to remove ‘objectionable’ tweets which Twitter will remove happily. What is the point of Twitter if this happens?

You know what happened to SOPA when it tried to violate our rights? It died. Does Twitter seriously not know where this path leads? The more you try to control something on the Internet the more things spin rapidly out of control like a viral disease. This is called the ‘Streisand Effect’. Twitter is popular only because of its 140 character limit, its real-time nature and the freedom of speech and expression it provides. Without it, Twitter would be dead and buried long time ago in the same place where all the other Social Networks like MySpace, Hi5 and Friendster are.

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