Twitter May Restrict Tweets in Certain Countries if Required By Law

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Torn between fostering free speech and complying with laws of the various nations where Twitter exists, the company decided today to enable itself to restrict Tweets in countries where certain speech is prohibited. "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," the Twitter blog said. Though Twitter hasn't done so yet, it wrote that if it does censor tweets in this way, there will be transparency. "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."

Only a year ago while uprisings raged in Egypt and other Arab countries, Twitter was a major vehicle for coordinating protests and reporting. At that time, in a post titled "The Tweets Must Flow," the company wrote: “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.”

In Thursday's post, titled "Tweets Still Must Flow," they elaborated on the rationale and dynamics of the policy change.

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 up in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land offered insight on how the policy might work in practice (see the site for a visual illustration).

So far, Twitter tells me that virtually all of the tweets it has had to pull have been due to complaints filed through the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Like Google, it has already been filing requests it receives to remove content with Chilling Effects.

That will continue to be the case going forward, and any request made under US laws to remove content will continue to pull that content from Twitter worldwide.

However, now if Twitter gets a request to remove content under the laws of another country, it can react to remove that content just for people in those particular countries.

Google instituted a similar policy years ago, the AP points out, adding that Twitter's policy is quite similar.