The tweetstream has been flowing today with quite a variety of responses to the announcement on Twitter’s blog that they now have the capacity to take down tweets within individual countries while leaving them accessible to everyone else. That seems to be the key statement.
Some have welcomed this is a reasonable response to legal strictures (they give the fact that several European nations prohibit pro-Nazi sympathies in law as a relatively benign example) that limits the censorship damage while respecting national rules. Others have seen it as the development of a dictator-friendly app which opens the door to lock-downs when governments dislike protester use of the medium. Quite apart from Arab and other anti-freedom governments, the London riots provoked a big outcry against social media use with demands that Twitter be shut down or censored.
An emerging issue is that with Twitter’s success, staff are being located in various parts of the world. So governments have leverage they did not have before.
Quick responses, assuming I have understood what’s afoot:
1. The rollout was incompetent, especially if the Twitter spin (extreme cases, one by one, after the event – no machine exclusion of keywords, for example) is honest. Both in respect of concerns tweeps have ventilated, but to my mind much more important the signal being sent to governments.
2. We may not doubt that it has already been seen as a come-on in the chancellories of repressive regimes everywhere and also of rather freer but touchy jurisdictions like the UK. Overweening “superinjunctions” issued by the UK High Court to protect celebrity anonymity have been outed on Twitter. Perhaps no more.
3. Twitter’s insistence that their country kill switch is, as it were, a sniper’s rifle, needs to be put to the test. if the High Command is to retain our confidence. Here’s my proposal: Let them issue a fuller, more formal statement with examples, and let them appoint an independent panel who will take responsibility for approving the sniper’s targets in line with those principles.
4. I suspect this country-specific technology will weaken Twitter’s claim to be offering a conduit to the opinions, good and and bad, of tweeps, and move it further toward taking a curation role in the dissemination process. This will weaken its defenses in law as well as public perception. Indeed, perhaps it already has.
Do we agree?