Google and Twitter have been under great pressure to censor content on their platforms from several countries. Twitter has been blamed for stoking revolutionary and protest uprisings around the world, assuredly sparking concerns in all leaders who seek to hold onto power. Meanwhile, Google has already succumbed to censorship demands in China, as well as individual YouTube removal requests from various nations.
Most recently, in America, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman, sent a letter to Google requesting that they censor violent content on their Blogger platform. Lieberman also made a similar request to Twitter, that they deactivate accounts that tweet anti-West content.
Google announced that its Blogger platform will now be accessed at different ‘country-specific URLs’. “For example, if you’re in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected [blogname].blogspot.com.au,” Google wrote on their blog.
Google said the change in the blogspot addresses will provide “greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests pursuant to local law,” adding that “By utilizing ccTLDs, content removals can be managed on a per country basis, which will limit their impact to the smallest number of readers.
Content removed due to a specific country’s law will only be removed from the relevant ccTLD.”
Google admits this change will negatively affect the search engine results of blogs because of the dilution by multiple domain names hosting duplicate content on them; “Hosting duplicate content on different domains can affect search results, but we are making every effort to minimize any negative consequences of hosting Blogspot content on multiple domains.”
Google claimed that blogs hosted by Blogger with custom domains would not be affected.
Twitter is also accused of being an ‘agent of censor’ since they announced similar tactics to comply with censorship laws of different nations:
As we continue to grow internationally, 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. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.
Twitter’s announcement sparked immediate outrage, while Google’s has slipped under the radar until now. Like Google, Twitter said that it will not remove tweets completely; rather they’ll be “withheld” from users in a country that demanded the removal with a “valid and applicable legal request.” Withheld tweets will be visible to users in countries outside the area that made the censorship request.
Although it seems to make sense that international Web companies should abide by local laws if they wish to do business there, try telling that to Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem who tweeted “This is very bad news,” later adding, “Is it safe to say that (hash)Twitter is selling us out?”
Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the ACLU, told Wired “The countries that engage in censorship are precisely the ones in which open and neutral social media platforms are most critical,” before adding a plea to Twitter “We hope Twitter will think carefully before acceding to any specific requests by those governments to censor content simply because they want to interfere with their citizens’ access to information and ideas.”
A regular staunch defender of Internet freedom across borders, Cindy Cohn, the legal director the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Wired “I think Twitter is telling us some unfortunate truths;”
Cohn said Twitter was at least being transparent. Facebook, for example, also regularly removes content for a variety of reasons to comport with local laws, too. She added that Twitter’s announcement underscores the need for anti-censoring technologies like Tor, which reroutes IP addresses as a workaround to a country’s censorship tactics.
“Rather than shoot the messenger, we need to put focus on to make sure we have really robust anti-censorship technologies people can use,” Cohn concluded.
Yet, perhaps freedom of expression should not be governed by private companies whose service is to promote free communication. And perhaps Internet free speech should be an enforceable global human right. As obvious as that may seem for rights activists, that’s exactly the opposite direction the global community is heading, led by the United States.
These announcements are setting the precedent that it’s okay to censor the Internet if there are laws that say it’s alright. Consequently, the U.S. Congress has put forward multiple such bills seeking tighter control of the Internet. Once they become law, these Internet juggernauts have proven that they will blindly adhere to the dictatorial censorship commands of any nation’s request.
It doesn’t seem to matter to them that laws are just words on a paper, but freedom of information and speech is a right and censorship is just plain wrong.
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See more articles by Eric Blair here.