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Twitter: Will blocking Tweets turn the volume up or off?

February 6, 2012

Does a growing Twitter turn the volume up or off?


Twitter. What can it do for you? Some people use it to vent about their lives; some used it to brag about theft during the London riots (and then face a huge public backlash); some may pick up girls on it and during the Arab spring a year ago, it contributed to the downfall of decade-old dictatorships.


Last week, Twitter announced that it now had the ability to block individual tweets in individual countries, rather than their current ability to block a tweet world-wide. Theoretically this means that a Chinese national could tweet ‘capitalism is the way forward’, which then would be blocked in China (after a request from someone, presumably the government), but not in the rest of the world.


It is seen as part of Twitter’s aim to move into more countries around the world, not all of which have free speech protection. So it sides itself with governments and companies in it’s target market in order to pave the way for it’s expansion.


So is this a good thing? Well, I think that anybody would be hard-pressed to argue that blocking a tweet in one country is better than deleting it internationally. But one presumes that blocking internationally is a very hard thing to do – and consequently less gets blocked. If it was country-specific, it could be quicker.


Twitter has said that to maintain transparency, they will use the same tactic that Google does when removing tweets – that is posting the requests on, an EFF-run website.


But is has faced criticism from a large number of it’s users, including several in countries where it was partly responsible for regime change. It is likely that the Egyptian government would have said that tweets urging people to Tahir Square were illegal, and so would have been deleted. The uprisings may not have happened, and that is a scary thought.


Google recently took on the Chinese government with regards to filtering it’s search results, so there is old ground with regards to country v tech giant to look over. Google initially drew a lot of flak when it agrees to filter results, but won plaudits when it decided to route most of the traffic via Hong Kong (less restriction) more recently.


Could Twitter go down the same path? It needs to grow, especially if it wants to get to the $100 billion IPO rumours that are floating around about Facebook currently, but then would that be losing it’s soul and it’s attractiveness? Some may argue that Facebook already has. It’s not the cutting edge any more, it’s the place where you have to deny friend requests from your parents.


Twitter should be applauded for trying to stick closer to the laws of different countries, obviously. But it then raises the question of if those laws are unjust in the first place, should they be obeyed? And then, who decides that?


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