By Lilit Arabyan
The powerful tool of new media in the protester’s hand is…well, revolutionary. Twitter’s new International Censorship Plan allows for the website’s blocking of certain tweets on a country-by-country basis, in an effort to respect the responsibilities and limits that come with postings on social media sites. But what of protecting the peoples’ very basic, universal right to expression? The reactions to this policy change were plentiful, as Twitter announced the modification in its blog on January 26th, 2012.
Bloggers were outraged over the policy’s implications on First Amendment Rights, calling on Twitter’s management to reassess the repercussions of the new strategy on freedom of information. Acknowledging Twitter’s indispensability in Internet-based revolutions like the attempt by Moldovan citizens in 2009, and more notably the success of rebellion-organizing using Twitter in Libya this past year, opponents described the policy as one that is caving to the demands of global censorship – rightfully so.
Thailand’s Technology minister Anudith Nakornthap applauded the policy for being a “constructive” development. That is no surprise. The Southeast Asian country’s taskforce that monitors anti-monarchy content has blocked 1,156 websites with content deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy thus far.
By becoming so profoundly concerned with inconveniencing governments who already limit their citizens’ freedoms, Twitter is letting the people down – and further curtailing their rights.
Arguing that this was actually a win for freedom of speech advocates, and labeling it a step forward for tweets deemed as illegal by one government to be kept visible to the rest of the international community is a sign of surrender and an insult to the same Protester who was celebrated as person of the year by Time. To assure those of us who were furious that this was not the case, a Twitter spokesperson indicated that Twitter would only block tweets or users “in the face of a valid and applicable legal order”. Well, we all know that it may be a matter of time before this line becomes blurred; and as social media sites receive more pressures to abide, we can be giving up more rights than we initially signed up for.
Tools like Twitter need to exist without censorship; otherwise, we risk silencing those who need this medium most. To stay true to open communication in an increasingly transparent world may be a large appeal by the international community, but Twitter should take this as a measure of its importance. Twitter is a valuable tool. It should not take back the promise of connection that it has made to so many.
There is no excuse.