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Twitter announces country-specific censorship policy

Twitter announced that it will begin censoring tweets specific to individual country’s freedom of expression policies. While before, the only way Twitter was able to censor tweets was globally, the social networking site now says it can tailor its censorship of tweets to users from specific countries.

Twitter claims it has not yet used its powers of censorship, but that if it does, it “will attempt to let the user know” and “will clearly mark when the content has been withheld.” In its announcement, Twitter offered the examples of the France and German ban on pro-Nazi content. Thus far, Twitter says it has mostly only deleted tweets that linked to child pornography.

Twitter has said it will only take down tweets that are against the law in a specific country and has teamed with to post the takedown requests it receives.

Although Twitter has long been an advocate of the free flow of information, this announcement is a turn-off for some, with many fearing that Twitter will back down from the staunchly free exchange stance it has held in the past.

Some attribute the change in policy to the recent $300 million investment from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.  Still others, such as EFF director of international freedom of expression Jillian C. York, believe that the announcement doesn’t reflect a change in policy at all, since Twitter has already taken down content in compliance with DMCA requests. Twitter has also previously kept out of China out of fear of retaliation from the Chinese government.

How will Twitter’s new policy affect international users, who have often used the service to spread the news of political protests? Twitter’s new policy may now, in fact, prevent the future spread of information, such as the contribution it provided to the protests in Egypt. There is no doubt that Twitter and other social media networks have contributed greatly to political movements throughout the world.

Twitter must decide what its role will be. Will it continue to be a vessel through which those who are unhappy with their governments can communicate, or will it slink into the realm of MySpace, where not even today’s teens will bother to post up their latest bathroom mirror deer-in-the-headlights photos? Will Twitter hold to its promise to only exercise its forces of censorship at the express request of a particular government? You can bet First Amendment advocates will be watching very closely.

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