EFF: "What Does Twitter’s Country-by-Country Takedown System Mean for Freedom of Expression?"

An explainer from Eva Galperin at the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Twitter's "country-based tweet takedown" news.

The key point here, which has been missing in much of the initial coverage, is that the policy announcement is specifically related to the company's global expansion: Twitter is opening offices in more countries around the world. A US-based company doesn't "have to" censor speech according to any other country's laws, but the scenario is quite different for a company opening offices and placing employees within foreign borders. Snip:

Until now, when Twitter has taken down content, it has had to do so globally. So for example, if Twitter had received a court order to take down a tweet that is defamatory to Ataturk--which is illegal under Turkish law--the only way it could comply would be to take it down for everybody. Now Twitter has the capability to take down the tweet for people with IP addresses that indicate that they are in Turkey and leave it up everywhere else. Right now, we can expect Twitter to comply with court orders from countries where they have offices and employees, a list that includes the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, and soon Germany.

Twitter's increasing need to remove content comes as a byproduct of its growth into new countries, with different laws that they must follow or risk that their local employees will be arrested or held in contempt, or similar sanctions. By opening offices and moving employees into other countries, Twitter increases the risks to its commitment to freedom of expression. Like all companies (and all people) Twitter is bound by the laws of the countries in which it operates, which results both in more laws to comply with and also laws that inevitably contradict one another. Twitter could have reduced its need to be the instrument of government censorship by keeping its assets and personnel within the borders of the United States, where legal protections exist like CDA 230 and the DMCA safe harbors (which do require takedowns but also give a path, albeit a lousy one, for republication).

Read more at EFF.org.


        1. Agree. The reporting on this largely takes the need for offices at face value. At the very least, the assumption that Twitter needs offices in various places suggests that Twitter is a corporate identity, and not the sum of the activity of its users. 

    1. any suggestions (from anyone) on alternatives?  possibly those hosted in countries more liberal than the US on freedom of the press/speech?

  1. I don’t see why Twitter needs offices in any place except their headquarters. They aren’t selling physical goods. I’m sure they have some reasons — marketing, et al — but then they must consider the protection of free expression rather lower on the list. Not that the USA is exactly a bastion of free expression these days, but we still do a pretty good job of letting people say crazy shit.

    1. Presumably the profit of opening these offices must outweigh the cost of implementing these new filtering policies.  But considering I have no idea how Twitter even makes money in the first place, I’m not sure how this works out.

      1.  I don’t believe they DO make much money, other than some private deals with companies for data mining access. Hence the investments from people like the Saudi prince. They’re a typical 1990s-style dotcom which had no real business model except for, “let’s make this thing and figure it out later. and get a lot of VC. and hookers. with cocaine.”

        1. $145M revenue in 2011.  Promoted Tweets, Promoted Trends and Promoted Accounts.  they are valued at several $Billion.  so the only part you are mostly right in is the “figure it out later” part.  oh and the VC part. 

  2. On the positive side, this means when the US demands that Twitter censor content, the rest of the world will still be able to see it.

  3. I’m curious about the logistics of how censorship would work. Would someone in the Ankara office personally read all tweets to check for ones defamatory to Ataturk or would they try to use an algorithm to automate the process? Would they account for forbidden tweets being published in non-English and non-Turkish languages? Could I say “Ataturk was a bunghole” in Swahili and have it get through or would it be changed to “ttrk ws bnghl”?

  4. Problem here is that in Japan there is no freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution. So legally the government can censor any forms of communication, including messages passing its borders even electronically. In fact there is a new law specifically to outlaw fear mongering in light of recent events at Fukushima. To be fair to the government, there were quite a few apocaholics who got everyone pretty close to wholesale panic which would  have resulted in many more lives lost than would have been possible in a radiation bloom. Now, it’s true that twitter.com (us) doesnt have to comply with jp government requests but..

    1. most developed nations have the panic inducing exception while retaining freedom of speech.  even the US

  5. I see this as a good compromise. Now, if a government complains, the tweet in question can be censored for only a certain IP block. If users want to still view censored tweets, they need only use a spoofed IP from an unblocked country or a proxy. Tada, they can now see tweets censored by their government. Much better than having to remove the tweet for everyone.

    Of course, with this arrangement, the particular government can probably track those who use spoofed IPs or proxies. That, however, is strictly an issue with that government, and nothing to do with Twitter.

  6. Why is there no Anonymous isp yet? Is it really impossible to do a search engine, social media and instant messaging without being evil?

  7. Check out diaspora, the distributed social network. You can make your own social networking “pods” so you can control your own information. There is no centralized infrastructure where you can be censored.

      1. solid alternative to facebook, despite the “where is everyone?” factor.  different medium/paradigm altogether from twitter, et al

  8. “Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. ” – Russell Baker

  9. There is an solid open source twitter clone option called identi.ca from the people at status.net.
    I hope people will start moving. Twitter has been deleting all the protest related tweets out of the #rankings in the USA going back to the #FuckYouWashington and #occupywallstreet.

    We should have left then, but this is what makes people leave, that works too.

  10. Developments in the way we communicate have increasingly been locked into specific companies in a way they have not in the past. You can choose a range of phone companies and communicate with anyone who has a phone regardless of the company providing their phone service same goes for email.

    But new communications technologies like Twitter do not work like this. That’s what makes this kind of thing a problem. You can’t just switch provider you have to stop communicating in that particular way. As these forms of communication become more a part of our daily lives this is very problematic.

  11. It is sad to see corporations cave in when they have a massive opportunity to shaft repressive regimes in the fork:

    Can you imagine if RIM said to a country that demanded the right to read all the email traffic of users in its country if RIM had said “No.  IN fact, we will simply not provide service to your country effective tomorrow.”  Or if Twitter did the same thing?

    Shut down say, Saudi Arabia’s entire Blackberry network or turn off Turkey’s entire ability to Twitter and do everything possible to let it citizens know *why* it happened and just sit back and watch the fun.

    Many corporations are big and powerful enough that they cold take on entire countries and win an economic war.  Think of the force for genuine freedom that could become.   I know.  Lots of luck.

  12. couldn’t friends or followers from outside the country just re-tweet the disabled message?
    Some kind of #censoredbytwitter tag could be used?
    IANAT (tweeter)

  13. Investigate closely how this works. If you should have received a tweet that has been censored you are informed of this. Then you are asked if twitter has classified your country correctly. You can given the opportunity to “correct” twitter’s notion of what country you are in. Switch countries and suddenly the tweet appears.

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