Twitter, geo-location “censorship”, how to bypass it and why you should not participate in #twitterBlackout
In a blog post “Tweets still must flow” Twitter announced today that it will introduce the ability to censor tweets based on geo-location of users.
“… 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.
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 available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”
The keyword in the above sentence is “reactively withhold content” - gone a bit under noticed, it failed at “withholding” the inevitable rage in twitter land.
Quoting Jodi Olson, part of the communications team at Twitter in his reply to Forbes article “Twitter commits social suicide”
The key is that this reactive only. It’s on a case-by-case basis, in response to a valid request from an authorized entity.
In other words, there will be no algorithm scanning the thousands of tweets per second for words like “p0rn” or “wikileaks” then blocking them as per the KSA or United States requests.
While the folks at twitter blog thought this is very obvious, a better communication and a little more explaining would have saved me and many others some trouble . For example, there is already a petition at “Demand Progress” with a dead twitter bird and all – Anonymous are also calling for a #twitterBlackout tomorrow
How does it work and how to by-pass it?
Here is how it works:
- Twitter has to receive a “valid” request from an “authorized” entity
- Twitter notifies affected users
- Twitter clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld
- Twitter publishes requests to withhold content to a third party trusted monitoring website: Chilling effects https://www.chillingeffects.org/twitter
In their article in the help center, twitter provided a detailed overview
Why things are not so bad
It is not a thrilling move from twitter, but it is not the doom that some are predicting or the social suicide of twitter as per Forbes’ article.
I’d like to quote Jillian C York. Director for International Freedom of Expression @EFF, @globalvoices author/board member.
Here is a small list to lighten you up.
- Censorship is not silent and will not go un-noticed like most other censoring systems
- The official twitter help center article includes the way to bypass it – simply – all you have to do is change your location to another country and overwrite the IP detection.
Yes, that is all, and it is included in the help center
- Quantity – can you imagine a govt trying to censor on a tweet by tweet basis a trending topic like Occupy or Egypt or Revolution – the amount of tweets can bring up the fail whale despite the genius twitter architecture , so imagine what is gonna happen to a paper work based system.
- Speed – twitter, probably one of the fastest updating systems online - and legislative bodies move at glaringly different speeds – It is impossible for a govt to be able to issue enough approval for a trending topic or anything with enough tweets/interest on.
- Curiosity kills the cat and with such an one-click-bypass process, most people will become interested in checking out that “blocked” content. People are willing to sit through endless hours of tech training and use shady services to access blocked content – so this is like doing them a service.
Twitter under pressure?
(This is based on personal opinion)
Many tweets were speculating that this move is the result of the pressure generated by some saudi prince who recently bought a 3% stake in twitter – I think the above proved this conspiracy theory very wrong.
Instead I’d like to spin the webs of my own conspiracy theories:
- is twitter trying to please China or the growing number of “markets” aka govt throwing twitter out of their boundaries?
I think this is less likely, because as one of the twitter founders or CEO pointed in an article i can’t find again, the chinese market is out of their reach basically due to the competition from Weibo and well, cuz the chinese govt are not idiots.
However those are events I’d like to point out :
- Twitter had the spine to stand up to the US Govt : Last year Twitter kinda forced the U.S. government to acknowledge that it was seeking personal information from several Wikileaks supporters, including Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir and networking expert Jacob Appelbaum. Although other companies, like google/facebook, have likely received the same court order and quietly complied, Twitter was the only one to make it public.
- I personally noticed that Twitter has been threatened with court over Hezbollah tweets and Taliban accounts, I am not following up on twitter lawsuits, but i can imagine there are others.
- There is an ever growing pressure from the Intellectual property lobby and obviously many Govt. that are not best friends with twitter – so eventually something had to be done while twitter was still in a good position.
So an extremely transparent procedure, easy to by pass, very hard to implement on large scales or to big was built by twitter to probably avoid some legal problems and pressure…
so seriously guys, let’s not boycott twitter tomorrow
and i am kind sorry I quick jumped to conclusions before doing my research on the topic – i hope by sharing with you this post, I kinda make up for it.