By Anna Jaffray
Twitter announced Thursday on its company blog that it would censor tweets in countries with, “differing ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.” Some gay activists worry that their speech will be censored in Arabic and African countries where homosexuality is against the law.
Examples of content that may be censored include Pro-Nazi commentary in countries such as Germany or France where such discussions are illegal. Previously, Twitter would have banned the tweets at a system-wide level, blocking them globally. With the new policy, Twitter will be able to block tweets on a country by country and tweet by tweet basis. However, many gay activists are concerned that such censorship in countries where homosexuality is illegal will limit the ability of those in the community to garner support and communication.
“We are very concerned about this new development,” said Dan Littauer, Executive Editor for Gay Middle East, “twitter has an enormous impact in spreading news and media, especially regarding Human Rights, including LGBT rights across the world and in particular the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)…This is a very dangerous precedent.”
Human Rights Campaign, an international group working for LGBT rights, declined to comment.
Twitter said in its blog post that the new approach would result in less censorship, not more. “In short, we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability — and for our users. Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal.”
Given the primary role of Twitter in the Arab Spring uprisings, activists of all kinds are alarmed at the announcement. A petition started by The International Gay Rights Organization on Change.org, calls for participants to express their outrage to Twitter. T.I.G.R.O. said, “In Russia the promotion of homosexuality is totally illegal and LGBT activists are arrested on a regular basis…Twitter allows organizations like ours to communicate with extremely vulnerable people. Twitter’s new policy puts our ability to do this in jeopardy.”
Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo said that if Twitter reacts to take-down requests, it will make public the reasons a tweet is being removed and where. Twitter will be notifying its customers of the censored items via a gray box,
The company’s new policy is purely “reactive” according to their blog. It will allow the company to respond to legal requests by the host country and to clearly mark the censored comment on the host countries’ pages. Twitter will not be censoring comments ahead of time. In an effort to increase transparency under increasing criticism, Twitter also released a link to their complaints website, http://chillingeffects.org/twitter which allows users to track legal complaints to the company.
Victoria Nuland from the State Department said, “…the choice is operate not at all, or operate in a constrained way. So from that perspective, being honest about what you’re up to is in keeping with these standards.”