Twitter and censorship

By Alan Webber, Principal Analyst

Almost 49 years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood at a podium in the divided city of Berlin where he proudly proclaimed that the wall that divided the city was an affront to basic human freedoms, that it was a symbol of the failure of communism and its ability to effective govern nations. Twenty-four years later, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate to encourage Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down the wall” that divided the city and the world.

Though that wall was eventually torn down, today new walls are being built that restrict the freedom of expression and the free flow of information. Twitter has announced that it will willingly begin, when asked by countries, to censor the flow of information by withholding specific content to users in that country. They have offered a side note that they will let users in that country know that the content is being withheld. Essentially, Twitter has bowed to the demands of censorship.

In all honesty, this isn’t something new. Twitter has been removing content for a while now under the DMCA. What has changed is now that this can happen in countries other then the US and for questionable reasons. Google has also been doing this for a while.

What makes this unique is the ability to remove it just for people within a certain country based upon IP address. It does increase Twitter’s ability to expand internationally into countries with much stricter content and media rules. And Twitter will likely be working with Chilling Effect to provide transparency into what requests are made. But it is censorship. And if they they are censoring the tweet, then there is a high likelihood that they won’t be able to see what is posted on Chilling Effects.

In the end, if you live in the U.S., this probably won’t affect you today or tomorrow and it probably isn’t something to worry about. But it is an indicator of the what is coming.

Note: This is also cross-posted on my personal blog at Ronin Research.


  1. This could be the catalyst for a start-up that offers Twitter-like functionality but without global censorship. One of Twitter’s greatest values is as a viral news and info channel. And censored news is power.

  2. Interesting changes as new shareholders come on board and new agendas are set. I would say that for a while, we’ve seen changes in Twitter (of direction or interest or even values (?) that are reflected in these new policies, the quality of the new website, the new iPhone App and other instances.

    Agreed with Steve, it is also the opening of opportunities to more platforms that in time will acquire users in speeds never before experienced. Faster acquisition by Start-ups with disruptive innovations. There may be a paradox: the re-disruption of old resuscitated paradigms.