Photograph by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.
Citing its expansion into "countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression," Twitter announced Thursday that it now has the capacity to censor tweets by country.
But it doesn't look like the microblogging service will use the new censorship functionality in order to start up in China, where the site is currently blocked. Twitter explained that while some countries, like France or Germany (both of which have banned pro-Nazi content), have restrictions on freedom of expression that will be better served by the new censorship process, others simply have restrictions that "differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there."
Since Twitter already censors tweets globally, the announcement represents less of an increase in censorship than it does a different approach for the globally popular site in dealing with the varied laws in the countries of its users. The site says it hasn't yet used its newly self-granted power and, perhaps anticipating a backlash from a consumer base that is particularly attune to censorship issues, the company is taking extra steps to maximize transparency when it comes to censored tweets.
In addition to trying to notify a user when a tweet is censored in a country, Twitter will also clearly mark withheld content. And now they're posting all received cease and desist letters at this new Chilling Effects page.
Twitter may have brought unwanted attention to some possible implications of the new policy by announcing it one day after the anniversary of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt, in which Twitter was an essential communication tool. On Boing Boing, which posted early and critically on the new development, Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray responded to the criticism and tried to minimize fears that the site is becoming more oppressive regime-friendly. "This is not a change in philosophy," he wrote, adding the hashtag #jan25, which was used by Egyptian protesters last year.