Censor British tweets – What could happen under new Twitter policy

Twitter is credited with helping to cause the Arab Spring revolution. Photo: Jonathan Rashad | Flickr.

British Twitter users tweets could be censored is the news not many people were hoping to hear.

That’s what Twitter’s head of global public policy, Colin Crowell told Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions that the new policy by the social media company to allow censoring

Quoted in the Telegraph, he said it “wasn’t with any particular issue or particular country in mind”.

The way it would work in the UK would be to restrict access to unlawful tweets, such as those discussing gagging orders. Earlier this year, many such gagging orders were truthfully and falsely discussed openly on websites including Twitter. One such person revealed to have ordered an injunction by Twitter, and subsequently named in the House of Commons, included Ryan Giggs, the Manchester United footballer.

Mr Crowell is also quoted in the Telegraph article as saying:

“I don’t pretend to know exactly how an injunction process would work,” … “we would need to receive some notice presumably”.

“But the policy as we announced was when we received a request [for censorship] from an authorised entity we will deal with those.”

Mr Crowell also said Twitter has never received a super-injunction from a British court.

On the Twitter blog post, the company said they would be working closer with Chilling Effects, “which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.”

The new policy caused outrage over the weekend, resulting in many users boycotting the site to take part in #twitterblackout. Twitter, amongst other social media networks, was credited with helping to cause the Arab Spring and facilitate an uprising against world leaders.

Twitter said in a post on its blog

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.

After the calls at the weekend for the policy to be changed, and the boycott, Twitter updated the post and stated:

Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four days—filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.

As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.

It should also be pointed out that on the same post Twitter says “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.”

What do you think? Should Twitter censor tweets if they breach injunctions? Should it happen at all? Or is this a step in the right direction?

Let us know…

This was written by Andrew Stuart. He is @andrewstuart on Twitter, and runs his own website www.andrewwgstuart.com