Bloomberg News

Twitter Gives Itself Added Flexibility in Censoring Messages

January 31, 2012

(Updates with criticism of decision in eighth paragraph.)

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc., the microblogging service, gave itself extra flexibility to censor information in parts of the world that impose restrictions on self-expression.

Effective yesterday, Twitter added the ability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis, rather than globally, the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.

As Twitter expands, it gains a deeper toehold in countries that have what it called “different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.” Twitter said the changes would let it withhold a posting, or tweet, in a country where a particular kind of content is banned. It cited France and Germany, which ban pro-Nazi propaganda.

“Twitter needs global expansion,” said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Altimeter Group in San Mateo, California.

The shift would let Twitter comply with strictures in one country without having to pull offending tweets from its entire audience. Previously, Twitter banned offensive content on a global basis, rather than for a specific nation. Still, the decision drew criticism from some users because the service has been used as an agent of social change around the world, including the Middle East.

Twitter will attempt to let the user know if a tweet is censored and will clearly mark when the content has been blocked, it said in the blog.

Twitter Blackout

Some Twitter users are calling for a boycott of the service tomorrow in protest of the decision. They’re using “#TwitterBlackout” as a hash tag -- a label that lets people easily find tweets on the same topic.

Reporters Without Borders, an organization that seeks to defend freedom of information, also said it was disturbed by Twitter’s decision.

“We urge you to reverse this decision, which restricts freedom of expression and runs counter to the movements opposed to censorship that have been linked to the Arab Spring, in which Twitter served as a sounding board,” the organization said in a letter to Jack Dorsey, chairman of Twitter. “Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”

Twitter, with more than 100 million users, is grappling with more scrutiny about how it handles user content. Twitter said yesterday it was preparing to add the languages of Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu. The company said it hasn’t yet used the ability to censor by country.

--Editors: Tom Giles, Nick Turner

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net


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