Freedom on the Tweet: Can Twitter Censor By Country?

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Man with mouth censoredAs Twitter expands globally, it recently made the news with its announcement that it can now censor tweets by country. Twitter may have fallen in to the shadows, particularly with Facebook announcing its recent floatation in to the stock market, but Twitter has its own upward movement on its mind. As Twitter faces worldwide growth it must now begin to take a few more things in to consideration. While the social network has the ability to reach out to individuals worldwide and allow for the freedom of uncensored speech and expression, these freedoms are coming under fire as Twitter reaches in to less liberal countries. As Twitter begins to grow its presence in a number of countries, it must begin to look at how this growing presence affects its mode of business. As Twitter steps in to countries that limit freedom of expression they have been forced to set new parameters which led to the development of the ability to censor tweets by country.

Deleting Tweets

In the past, before this newest development on the Twitter forum, offensive content was deleted completely and was no longer made available to any users of Twitter. This newest development allows for Twitter to withhold content from users in a designated country while allowing users in other non-restrictive countries to access the very same content. How will this new censorship project work? The big wigs down at Twitter headquarters have yet to utilize this technology; however, they do know just how it will function when it is put in to play. When an individual makes a post to Twitter that may offend select audiences in particular countries, Twitter will censor that tweet and allow users to see that their content has been prohibited.

How is the Possibility of Tweet Censoring Being Received?

The idea of tweets being censored not only hits a nerve with freedom of speech advocates such as the freedom of information advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, but it also hits home with a number of Twitter users as well. Why are people so dismayed? They say that it is only the first step in limiting free speech and once that first step is made it is sure to be followed by a landslide of other censorships that will eventually revoke freedom of speech all together.

Reporters without Borders

Reporters Without Borders are certainly not the only organization to have shown dismay with the new censorship ability of Twitter, but they are one of the largest groups. Individuals within the freedom of information group are not only concerned with the move but they also want to know what research was conducted to back up the claim that such censorship would be beneficial. Reporters without Borders also hold the belief that perhaps no research was conducted after all and this new level of censorship was reached after pressure from organizations and regimes became too much for Twitter to withstand when establishing a presence in specific countries.

Twitter Responds to Freedom of Expression Activists

With mounting pressure from activists within the Reporters without Borders group, Twitter responded that their overall policy on protecting the freedom of speech and freedom of expression has not changed at all. Twitter insists that they still value their client’s privacy and freedom of expression and this newest censorship measure would only be implemented as a result of a government request. When government intervenes and makes requests, Twitter asserts that they would then respond to these legal requirements by taking the newest step and censoring tweets by country.

The Difficulty of Balancing Laws and Free Speech

Twitter is certainly not the only organization that has been faced with the struggle of having to balance local laws with the idea of free speech. Other social networking sites such as Facebook and the other networking site: MySpace, have also had to battle to keep these elements in perfect balance in the past. While for the United States one of the most significant freedoms afforded to citizens is the freedom of speech and expression, those same freedoms are not afforded to citizens of every country around the globe. As a result of these countries with more stringent rights of expression, in order for Twitter to survive, they must adhere to local regulations and in this case that means being able to censor tweets from users in those designated countries.

Will This Change Allow Twitter to have a Presence in Every Country?

A number of people are under the assumption that this new editing process will allow for Twitter to establish a presence in every country around the world. The truth of the matter is however, that even with the ability to censor tweets; Twitter will not be able to function in every country simply because of the stringency of some country’s local laws. According to Twitter, some countries have such extreme censorship laws that it is simply impossible for Twitter to function at any level in them. One such country that has simply resorted to blocking Twitter all together is China. The regulations on just what can and cannot be said in China are extreme and even were they not banned already, there would simply be no functionality to a site like Twitter.

Is Twitter Really Trying to Censor the Internet?

While there are many people who believe that this newest move by Twitter is a method of censoring tweets around the world, looking at it from a functional business point of view this may not exactly be true. Like most other social networking businesses, Twitter wants a presence worldwide. Unfortunately, particularly in the realm of social networking, this worldwide presence means that companies must adhere to rules and regulations of each individual country. Does this mean that United States Twitter users will no longer be free to express themselves? Simply put – no, it means that when governments of other countries request changes to Twitter use in their country, Twitter must comply with their legal requests.

Is There Proper Twitter Etiquette?

Added on March 23, 2012

Researchers Paul André of Carnegie Mellon University, Michael Bernstein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Kurt Luther of Georgia Tech spent a year collaborating and collecting data about Twitter.

Why? To find out what makes a good tweet and what makes a particular tweet particularly annoying to others.

The result is a published study entitled, “Who Gives a Tweet: Evaluating Microblog Content Value.” The report shows what people find to be interesting, amusing, informative, exciting and useful as opposed to boring, arrogant, depressing, or mean.

While there are no specific etiquette rules in the report, you will always find Twitter posts that are excessive and annoying to other users will garner you no friends and no influence within the network, therefore defeating the purpose of using the site at all.

Don’t Annoy Your Followers

Boring Tweets turn out to be the pinnacle of annoyance to just about everyone on the site. What counts as boring? Turns out this means inane, pedestrian, uninformative, mundane, and whiny. For instance, here is an example of a Tweet that contains many of the annoying attributes uncovered in the study:

“I hate salad with tomatoes, like the one that I ate yesterday. I mean, honestly, can’t they just make them without the stupid tomatoes sometimes? Just saying.”

Such Tweets are excessively personal, and contain stale information about a salad you had for lunch yesterday, which is irrelevant news to everyone else. The salad Tweet is also old news, which gets quite boring to read because it is no longer pertinent information for the reader. The Tweeter sounds whiny and negative, two attributes that absolutely no one appreciates, and the Tweet itself is overly long even though under the Twitter limit. To keep your followers and make new friends, avoid Tweets such as these at all costs.

Another thing that was found to be highly annoying in the study was the users with excessive Foursquare location check-ins. Such check-ins are fine if they give your followers relevant information, but are otherwise considered excessive and un-necessary by most Twitter users. In fact, Foursquare location check-ins evoked a specifically strong negative reaction among most of the participants in the study.

Over-using #hashtags also highly annoyed Twitter users. The tags are meant for tracking responses to specific questions or to follow a specific subject or topic. However, using the hashtags, @mentions, and abbreviations for mundane topics or using them each more than a few times within a sentence will make your Tweets difficult to read. Your followers are also less likely to understand and more likely to lose interest this way.

Providing ample context for a Tweet is also necessary to keep the attention of your followers. No one in the study said they were more likely to click on a link to a blog or a photo if there was no context for it given within the Tweet itself. However, there can also be such thing as too much information in the Tweet, which might turn would-be interest away because they think you will not have anything new to tell them in your blog or news article.

Ways to Make a Positive Impression on Twitter

Surprisingly, self-promotional Tweets were not looked upon negatively by participants in the study, which is great news for using Twitter as a social networking tool. Intriguingly, respondents’ comments in the study indicated that this was still considered new and novel information, and new and novel Tweets were looked upon quite positively. Tweets that are exciting, informative, interesting, novel, useful, and funny are, once again, the absolute best.

Keeping a positive attitude in a Tweet can make all the difference, as well. A hypothetical Tweet that would be well-received:

“New salad debuted at Bistro today was great but pricey. Still, I recommend. Click the link for the full review on my blog.”

This contains new information, is positive in tone, and explains the link to the Tweeter’s blog. Even if you post something like this that is promoting yourself and your own blog, work, business, or hobby, others will still like it. A post like this also adds room for conversation, giving your followers a chance to chime in with their feelings about the new salad or about the restaurant in general, for example. People in the study indicated a special preference for Tweets which sparked an interesting debate or conversation. Your followers will get to participate and make the Tweet their own, which will continue to generate interest and enthusiasm.

Humor and its relevance in Twitter cannot be over-stated. Tweets were very popular in the study if they were witty and informative. Tweets that were witty about a current news event or a bit of up-to-the-minute social commentary also scored very highly. Funny posts will put your followers at ease and breed a sense of trust within your online social network.

The Bottom Line About Twitter Etiquette

While mastering the finer points of becoming a popular Tweeter will take time and practice, following the Twitter rules and regulations is an absolute must. The regulations prevent things such as harassment or stalking that both online and off would go beyond simple matters of etiquette.

Beyond that, treat others on Twitter the way you would want to be treated. Read what others Tweet and look at what you personally like and dislike about certain posts, and try to gear your own Tweets to have the qualities you appreciate.

Asking questions of other users will demonstrate your interest in what they have to say, as well as give them positive reinforcement for a good Tweet. Keeping personal or private questions limited to the private message area is also a considerate act on Twitter, since you never know when someone may want specific details kept private.

A positive attitude, strong level of friendliness, and dose of common courtesy are really all you need to have a successful Twitter profile.

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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2 Comments on "Freedom on the Tweet: Can Twitter Censor By Country?"


It would seem to me that there needs to be a dividing line between the Internet and real life. It is not Twitter’s job to uphold the laws of any country. To me, this is just one step closer to the coming reality of “1984”. To me, the whole purpose of the Internet is to communicate and share information that people might not otherwise have access to. This move of Twitter’s makes me lose respect for the integrity of the company.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to have a company whose purpose is to share information, then allow that information to be shared as the users like rather than as some government entity might demand. Let the lawmakers worry about such things before you lose customers who obviously misunderstood the purpose of the site.

Lily @Catalog Template
Lily @Catalog Template

Love how unbiased you were in this post. I still love Twitter no matter what.


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