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China Reporters Without Borders

'Blackout Twitter' call as firm stuns users with censorship plan


By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 28, 2012 | 3 min read

Thousands of people using Twitter in English, German, Arabic and other languages called for a one-day blackout, today in protest against Twitter's decision to remove messages from its service within specific countries if asked to do.

Twitter uproar

The move, seen by many as censorship, has aroused "a torrent of criticism," says the Wall Street journal. The WSJ points out it comes "after years of (Twitter) touting itself as a champion of free expression on the Internet"

Announcing the change , Twitter said that it was bound to enter "countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression."

Twitter said didn't say which countries it planned to enter, but commentators speculated that China, where twitter is currently blocked, was on the list. Twitter noted that countries such as France and Germany restrict pro-Nazi content.

After the Twitter bombshell, user Matthew Wallace of North Carolina tweeted on Friday, "Twitter starts deleting tweets, I stop posting tweets. Join the #twitterblackout tomorrow!"

Olivier Basille, director of Reporters Without Borders, a group supporting free speech , declared, "By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization."

Calling on Twitter to backtrack, he wrote "Are you going to block tweets about the demands of Turkey's Kurdish minority? Will Russian Internet users see their criticisms of the government censored?"

A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment to the WSJ. Twitter said it would only take down tweets if a request to do so comes from "an authorized entity," and that it would notify people whose tweets have been removed.

Previously Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo, had described Twitter as "the free speech wing of the free speech party."

One year ago, revolutionaries used Twitter and other social-media websites to organised protests that eventually brought down the Egyptian government. During the Egyptian revolution, the company said then "we strive not to remove Tweets on the basis of their content."

Twitter said its new policy would not be a solution for all situations.

Some countries "differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there," the company's announcement stated.

The WSJ described this as an implicit reference to countries such as China that have blocked Twitter.

Previously, Twitter said it could only respond to government requests by removing messages entirely from its global network.

"Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country—while keeping it available in the rest of the world," the company said .

Twitter has over 100 million active accounts, 70% of them outside the U.S.

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