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Twitter to censor content by country

yoshiffles via FlickrAs reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Loretta Chao (@lorettac) and Amir Efrati (@Amir_Efrati), Twitter is going to exercise Twitter’s ability to to withhold content from users in a specific countries while keeping it available to the rest of the world.

The effort underscores thorny issues for Internet companies as their websites become more global and interconnected among different countries, and as they must cooperate with diverse views on Internet content control. For websites like Twitter as well as social-networking site Facebook, this has meant being blocked in countries like China where controls are more aggressive…….Twitter has been blocked for more than two years in China by Web filtering technology. Some loyal users use circumvention tools to access the website, but most microblogging users in China now use Chinese services, including by Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. Some loyal users use circumvention tools to access the website, but most microblogging users in China now use Chinese services, including by Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

These websites have grown quickly and collectively have hundreds of millions of user accounts, despite censoring content, and new regulations that require users to register for their services using real-names.These websites have grown quickly and collectively have hundreds of millions of user accounts, despite censoring content, and new regulations that require users to register for their services using real-names…….As [Twitter] expands elsewhere, the company will have to comply with local law or its employees could potentially face prosecution or other legal action.

Twitter acknowledges the dilemma it faces in what is going to be viewed by many as censorship. From Twitter’s blog yesterday on withholding content by country:

One year ago, we posted “The Tweets Must Flow,” in which we said,

“The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact … almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits.”

As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.

Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page, http://chillingeffects.org/twitter, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter…….One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The Tweets must continue to flow.

We’ve got a real clash here between the need for Twitter as an indispensable communication tool for people around the world, and the free speech that comes with it, and Twitter’s need to grow in markets that don’t condone free speech.

As Chao and Efrati report, “Twitter has been instrumental in helping people to organize revolutionary or political protests in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, the U.K. and U.S.”

While China, the largest market in the world, is going to do all it can to prevent an Egypt.

China has more Internet users than any other nation. Local Web firms in China employ dozens or hundreds of staff to police user-generated content daily, and are required by law to take down a frequently updated list of banned keywords for varying lengths of time, including those related to calls for peaceful political action.

Though no one expects China to allow Twitter overnight, Twitter appears to be working with China, to some extent, just as Google has.

By limiting content by country, Twitter can also address the issue of whether it should be shutting down the Twitter accounts of terrorists, as I have blogged about earlier.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has stated that the company is “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” but we’re seeing censorship creeping in so that Twitter can expand to more markets while by not being blocked or running afoul of criminal laws.