You Can't Say That, At Least Not Here; Twitter and International Censorship
Ryan Buddenhagen, February 17, 2012
Twitter caused waves last month when they announced they would be instituting a per-country take-down policy regarding controversial or banned content tweeted by its users. Many are showing their disapproval about the restrictive nature of this policy and predicting its relative impact on its users and the future of the platform. According to the announcement coming via Twitter's blog, the take-down policy is reactive in nature. They describe it stating, "We will withhold specific content only when required to do so to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request."
As a result, content is not proactively filtered as it is posted, rather retroactively taken down (precluding in-country viewing only) given a legitimate take-down request. The platform factors into SEO efforts that include social media campaigns and these changes will largely impact the SEO company that works with clients in international markets.
A Business Decision for the Reality We Live In
At the end of the day, it isn't such a large policy shift as take-downs occurred previously as well, but now, they only impact the immediate country as tweets will still be seen globally. This move is logical though, and maybe even necessary in order for Twitter to be a viable platform in many countries that have different rules and restrictions regarding what can and can't be said. In the announcement post, they touch on this reality describing that they will "enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression."
Twitter has stood for rapid, free-flowing information exchange and it has transcended how people learn about what is happening in the world, what people are saying about, and how social media can be leveraged for SEO gain, all in real-time. However, this is an internet-based social platform that operates in the political and judicial structure established in each individual country. It cannot exist on its own accord, and going forward, the platform is being forced to play by those institutional rules.
How Does This Change Twitter's Use in Affected Countries
In countries where Twitter censorship is experienced, the ways in which people use the platform could evolve. People may begin tweeting more for secondary audiences, those simply outside the users' countries. This has two immediate implications. First, users' audiences may become more international. Intercultural connections may then be made at a higher rate as individuals impacted by take-down censoring may follow and seek followers outside their own country to be able to get their messages out to the world.
Secondly, controversial issues will not be able to be discussed among fellow citizens thus potentially limiting the social capability of twitter to facilitate the sort of rapid connections that aided many protestors in countries across the Middle East during the Arab Spring. In such instances where in-country connections matter, users may turn to other platforms that allow them to discuss potentially controversial issues. As these changes are fully implemented, the social media community and international SEO companies looking to utilize Twitter around the world will see how the Twitterverse evolves.