Twitter has connected hundreds of millions of people internationally, and hosts a billion new tweets every four days. A year ago, Twitter famously titled a blog post “The Tweets Must Flow”, championing freedom of speech. The social network became a means of communication for the oppressed and the voiceless. Users in Syria, Egypt, and beyond have seized Twitter, and raised a collective voice. The result has been the ongoing Arab Spring; uprisings have taken place, and regimes have been toppled. But now, it seems, the tweets must stop flowing.
Or rather, they should flow, but through a controlled and censored channel. Twitter has announced that, in some countries it will begin censoring certain tweets in an effort to navigate differing national legislation, as it pushes to expand its user base. I understand this as a business decision; to any business growth and income will always be priorities, and this country specific censorship means that Twitter can avoid being sued by abiding with local laws in a local way.
But which honest, moral government would impede upon its electorate’s right to speech? In their announcement, Twitter use the exceedingly convenient example of it being illegal to make pro-Nazi statements in France. This isn’t what the censorship will be used for though. Twitter hasn’t become a platform for uniting the raging pro-Nazi French, it’s become the platform for cyberdissidents to assault corruption and bring it into the public eye. Only these corrupt dictatorships, which Twitter has been so instrumental in shaking, will be set to benefit from this change in policy.
When Twitter first championed freedom of speech, it took on a moral obligation. Now, in handing the reins back to the law-makers, Twitter is selling out, and robbing its desperate users. It shouldn’t be shirking its moral obligations, especially now that we have seen what freedom of speech and easy access to uncensored information can do. Most galling is the fact that Twitter knew it could be sued before, and yet maintained its stance. Why should it cave to the threats of fraudulent politicians now?
A censored Twitter is just another way for governments to manipulate the opinions of the masses, pump propaganda, and remain in a position of power. It’s not unusual for businesses to sidestep politics and comply with local law: Google, Yahoo, Facebook and many others have all been threatened with legal action and had to comply with legislation. Google’s image is now permanently stained as a result of it’s questionable dealings with China.
But we expect these businesses to let morality sail down the river if the price is right. Twitter, on the other hand, set itself apart, and with incredible results. Twitter became more than a business, it became the thorn in the side of the corrupt, helping democracy on its way to success. It became a platform, a means of mass communication and coordination, and a necessity for the oppressed. To back down on issues of human rights now would be immoral and irresponsible. You shouldn’t put a price on freedom of speech, but that is what Twitter seems to have done.