Twitter has announced that it now has “the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country—while keeping it available in the rest of the world.”
Essentially, if a specific country does not allow certain types of expression (Twitter uses the example of pro-Nazi content in France and Germany), it can request that a tweet be blocked to users within that country. It will still show up in Twitter feds elsewhere around the world. Previously, Twitter could only block tweets on a global level.
Blocked messages would look like this:
While it seems that Twitter intends to use this policy in good faith, questions are already being raised about whether anti-gay states in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East would use the new system to censor words like “gay” or other LGBT-related terms from their Twitter lexicon.
“We are very concerned about this new development. Twitter has an enormous impact in spreading news and media, especially regarding Human Rights, including LGBT rights across the world and in particular the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Twitter has been essential, for example, in helping the Arab Spring protests and also spread of information regarding LGBT issues in the Middle East and North Africa. Users within the state where censorship is about to occur will not be able to co-ordinate protests or actions.
Furthermore, many users in this region rely on tweets to inform them about already blocked sites, such as ours, for example in Saudi Arabia. This allows the Twitter users to use technology to bypass the censorship.
This means that if LGBT related tweets and users will be censored across some or all of the MENA countries it will make it so much harder to communicate and even know about censorship itself in that country. This is a very dangerous precedent.”
So far, the only country to come forward in support of Twitter’s new policy is Thailand, which is known for its highly restrictive, heavily enforced censorship laws. Information and Communication Technology Minister Jeerawan Boonperm called the censorship-enabling abilities a “welcome development.”