First, they came for the Tweets…

I’m not usually persuaded by “slippery slope” arguments, deeming them intellectually lazy. But I have to confess to being a little bothered that Twitter is announcing it has the capability, which it is willing to apply, to censor Tweets by country.

Twitter still maintains that “our policy and philosophy about the importance of supporting free expression has not changed.” But it doesn’t answer the question of whether it would have helped Egypt and other regimes suppress the Arab Spring.

It does draw the line at making a devil’s bargain, as Google did for a time, with China.

Twitter offers the example, to make us feel better, of cooperating with Germany’s anti-nazi laws. So… we’re supposed to feel good that they’re willing to suppress fascism, but personally, that’s a bit outweighed by the fact that the first country they come up with as an example is German. No offense, meine Kameraden.

This makes me wonder… something I am not at all happy about is that the most-viewed video (65,281 views) I’ve ever put on YouTube is a clip of neo-Nazis saying “Sieg Heil!” on the State House steps four years ago (and two make it worse, two other, longer clips I shot at that same rally rank fourth and fifth, which really creeps me out). So I guess that would have been censored, had Twitter been in charge — in Germany, at least.

I like that Twitter is trying to be, if this isn’t too much of an oxymoron, transparent about its censorship:

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page,, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

But I’m still not thrilled about it. You?

17 thoughts on “First, they came for the Tweets…

  1. bud

    Not sure you even need to invoke the slippery slope argument. Censorship like this is bad even if it slips no further.

  2. Jennifer Fitz

    Agreed. Don’t like it.

    Weirdly, I’d be fine if Twitter made across-the-tweetdom corporate policies about the kind of content it will allow, for whatever reason it decides. (And then tweeters could choose to stay and play or take their business elsewhere.)

    It’s the apparent caving to censorship laws that bugs me.

    I think I can’t explain myself very well on this one yet.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    They are a business, and not the “press”– which is why we need to preserve quality professional media….

  4. Libb

    Amazing..censoring tweets pushes your Big Brother button but nary a concern expressed over the 2012 NDAA legislation that gives this president and any future president authority to have the military put into military detention people,including US citizens,without charge or trial(potentially for the rest of their lives based on suspicion alone).

  5. Silence

    Yup, they are a business, the service is free, and nobody is forcing you to use it. If you don’t like their policies, cancel your account. I hardly ever use mine, and I don’t think I’d be the least bit worse off without it. Twitter is like a slightly less entertaining version of Facebook.

  6. Brad

    Oh, and to set the record even straighter — Twitter is infinitely more useful than Facebook. It’s a cleaner, purer, more efficient way both to keep up with what’s happening in the world, and to communicate.

  7. Steven Davis

    Tweet: Just got up, time to take a shower.

    Tweet: Shower done, gotta hit the potty.

    Tweet: Everythink okay, I can’t wait to get to Starbucks.

    Tweet: Traffic is heavy this morning.

    Tweet: Lucky me, found a spot right in front of Starbucks with time still on the meter.

    And, on and on and on…

  8. Cotton Boll Conspiracy


    I agree that Twitter is a business and there will always be a need for a quality professional media, but what about places like China and certain parts of the Middle East where the press may be completely controlled by the government and Twitter is one of the very few ways to get word out about suppression?

    At a minimum, a policy like this hurts Twitter’s reputation, which isn’t good for business.

  9. Nick Nielsen

    @Libb, for what it’s worth, the NDAA didn’t add anything that wasn’t already there or hinted at by the Patriot Act. It merely codified existing policy.

    Not that I think that’s a good thing…

  10. Brad

    Just in case anyone else knows as little about Twitter as Steven does, here is a sampling of Tweets from the past hour on my feed:

    Jon Ward @jonward11
    Palin calls criticism of Gingrich “Stalinesque” #straining

    Betsey Guzior @betseyguzior
    Heading to World Beer Festival? Here’s some expert advice:

    PostPolitics @postpolitics
    Gingrich thinks today’s kids have it way too easy, but some people thought that about young Newt himself.

    Jadeveon Clowny @JadeveonClowny
    Does anyone know where I could get an Obama look alike for a birthday party? I want a good one to trick people when he jumps out the cake.

    BBC Breaking News @BBCBreaking
    Fire breaks out in drug rehabilitation centre in #Peru’s capital #Lima, killing at least 20 people – police. More soon

    leon stavrinakis @leonstav
    Breaking: Still No Voter Fraud in South Carolina

    WBTW News 13 @WBTWNews13
    Update from WJBF: Officer Shot in Aiken, Police Have Suspect In Custody

    The Economist @TheEconomist
    Greece’s economy needs a bigger debt reduction. A precipitous exit from the #euro would be a disaster

    Morning News @VoiceOfPeeDee
    Myrtle Beach tobacco bag fight ends with stabbing:

    PublicPolicyPolling @ppppolls
    Mitt up by around 10 points on the first round of calls for our Florida poll…this one may end up being a snooze

    Romenesko @romenesko
    “I think tempers are overplayed in political reporting,” WP ombud writes in piece about Obama/Brewer.

    Coffee Party @coffeepartyusa
    Elite Wall Street Donations Jumped 700% in the Last 20 Years @TheAtlantic

    The Onion @TheOnion
    Department Of Housing And Urban Development Issues Report Just To Keep Name Out There

    CBS News @CBSNews
    What was Al Capone really like? Hear about his life from his great-niece (via @CBSThis Morning)

    The New York Times @nytimes
    In Davos, Europe Is Pressed for Debt Crisis Solution

    The Washington Post @washingtonpost
    rmer ‘Sons of Iraq’ targeted by insurgents after U.S. pullout. via @PostWorldNews

    The State Newspaper @thestate
    Dems gather to vote for @barackobama, elect convention delegates #sctweets

    CBS News @CBSNews
    Yemeni President Saleh on way to US for medical treatment for wounds suffered in assassination attempt

    The New Republic @tnr
    Democracy and the human heart: In memory of Václav Havel

    The New Yorker @NewYorker
    With the help of never-before released internal White House memos, @RyanLizza reviews Obama’s first 3 yrs: #longreads

    The Daily Beast @thedailybeast
    Romney Releases New Anti-Gingrich Ad: Attacks former House speaker for ethics violations. #cheatsheet

  11. `Kathryn Fenner

    well, Brad, you just confirmed my previous dislike of Twitter. It’s like arriving late to a party where everyone else has been drinking for a while and is now just declaring things, rather than conversing.

  12. Libb

    “It merely codified existing policy.” – Nick

    And therein lies the problem. The ambiguous wording of Sections 1021 & 1022 appears to have added a shiny, fast, red sled to the slippery slope of lost civil liberty. Wording that subjects to potential military custody “any person who has committed a belligerent act…” without specifying what exactly is a belligerent act does seem to be setting a very dangerous precedent IMHO. Has Congress now set the stage where the word “terrorism” can now be used with the same kind of abuse potential as “communism” was during the McCarthy era? Harvard Law School Prof Mark Tushnet thinks that’s exactly what this 2012 NDAA legislation may have accomplished with its ambiguity. He calls it “unnecessary and dangerous” and goes on to say, “…you are putting people in prison potentially for the rest of their lives based on some government bureaucrat’s say so or someone’s suspicion here or there…the government does make mistakes.”

    And US Sen Bernie Sanders (Vermont) had this to say: “The legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial. This bill also contains misguided provisions that in the name of fighting terrorism essentially authorize the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens without charges.”

    And this bothers me a helluva lot more than censoring twiddledum twiddledee tweets.

  13. Silence

    @Brad – Finally, in today’s State Newspaper I saw a great use for the Twitter: @DrinkingTicket – what a clever and novel use for new media!

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