Censorship on Twitter? The barriers against free expression are raised on the web

This doesn’t seem to be a good season for those of us who see Internet as an open democratizing technology. First were the precipitated discussions coming out of the United States regarding legislation to stop online piracy. Later, the closing down of one of the biggest sites for shared online content by the FBI. Now, Twitter seems to have followed the trend of infringing freedom on the web, by announcing that it will censor content that violates a country’s local laws. The creators of the 140 character social network informed users of the new measure in an official statement released on January 26, where it confirmed that it would eliminate specific content depending on the laws and demands of each country. The statement justified the measure, making clear that it is due to the massive international growth of the platform, which has entered new countries where ideas about freedom of expression are different.

Putting a stop on freedom

With the objective of putting a stop to the wave of criticism that the statement brought, one of the company’s spokespeople assured that the elimination of Tweets would only be carried out when demanded by law. It is certain that the statement isn’t very clear about how the control of messages will be enforced, but the blocking of each message will only apply to the country of origin and it will remain available in the rest of the world. The affected user will be informed of the reason for the blocking of the comment.

The root cause of the fear provoked by the company’s decision stems from the fact that if each country goes to court to block Tweets that it considers inappropriate, the web will lose the naturalness it has had when reflecting different social movements until now. We mustn’t forget the active part that Twitter had in the political events that shook the Middle East at the beginning of last year, or the natural disasters such as the earthquake in Japan.

It is not the first time that the scandal of censorship has loomed over the social networks. In August 2011, faced with riots in the United Kingdom, the British prime minister David Cameron expressed his desire to block access to the social networks by those users accused of using them to provoke the protests. On that occasion the intention to gag the web didn’t prosper, but it is certain that the next revolution probably won’t be tweeted if the government it opposes goes to court claiming that shared messages are against the law of the country. This was what Aurelio Martín, vice-president and technology manager of the Spanish Journalists Association (FAPE) was referring to when he said, “If this multinational, Twitter, is convinced by totalitarian countries that it should eliminate information prejudicial to them, humanity will never know what is going on in those territories. Twitter is a means of communication: if censorship is applied in a severe fashion, it will endanger freedom and favour dictatorships.”

And now?

The truth is that it is unlikely that web users agree with this new measure which will affect them directly without knowing the real extent of its limits and control. Twitter has grown thanks to its users and the participation of each one of them has given them the tool to express their ideas and feelings. If the constraints imposed on them grow, they will possibly migrate to other social networks where they feel their opinions are respected.

Users are at the heart of the social networks, they are the principle content producers and the big companies mustn’t forget this. So far in 2012 the freedom of expression on the web has taken a battering, and thanks to the reaction of those who actively participate on it was possible to put a stop to the aggression. But the fight doesn’t seem to be over…yet.