The micro-blogging service, Twitter, recently announced that they can now 'censor' messages by
country. Many in the technology community were shocked by this
news as the transparency and free access to information sharing on
Twitter was seen as a catalyst for some of the Arab spring
revolutionary activity this time last year.
Twitter has said that the price they need to pay for operating
in some countries is to have the ability to delete certain messages
at the request of a state government. They claim that transparency
has increased because they are being open about government requests
to remove information.
But are we seeing democratic values, such as free speech,
buffeting against national and commercial interest? Most users of
Twitter probably read information from, and talk to, people in
dozens of countries everyday. The information is just there,
regardless of national borders.
Twitter appears to be capitulating to national governments,
considering this as a price worth paying to do business in those
regions, so it appears that censorship on major social networks can
be bought. If the company doesn't want to miss out on entering
certain markets, they will do whatever it takes to be there rather
than defending the free exchange of information.
Of course, Twitter is just a company. They are not supposed to
be a champion of international free speech or human rights, but the
service has developed a track record for being simple, open, and
transparent. If that's all about to change so governments can
delete anything they see as seditious then where will the next Arab
spring be created?
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A legacy officer's role can involve difficult disputes with
families and strong emotions can be aroused. In such disputes
intrinsic human interest – and the risk of accompanying media
interest – is always there.