Twitter and censorship

Twitter and the censorship

In a controversial post entitled Tweets still must flow((And they stole the third datalove principles, yay for us)), twitter said that they will now be able to censor some tweets regarding on the locality of the reader. That mean that someone in China won’t be able to see this tweet about Tien An Men celebration, or that a tweet with a svastika will not be readable in France or in Germany. And then, the whole twitter sphere get mad, yelling while running in circle.

And the storm will cease, people will forget and move on the next big thing. Twitter will expand and open a new office in China, because they’re doing business. It’s their objective remember? Business, after all twitter is a profit driven company that want money. They do not want your freedom or your safety, they want your money.

I always think that twitter wasn’t that bad, at least, toward my privacy. After all, my friend list is public (anyone can see it, even people without a twitter account), my lists and tweets are also public and they do not have any bits of personal information about me, except my pseudonym and an email to join me. Twitter is one of the few corporation that deal correctly about privacy (I can share my location, but it’s not active by default, I can use my GSM, but it’s not active by default, etc.) So, they provide a service to everyone (they even tolerates bots, even the one that only speaks to computers, that mean control command for botnets). It’s not purely neutral (it’s not distributed), but it’s a good start.

Then things changed

In the beginning (yeah, last year, maybe the year before), twitter had a great documented API that anyone could use to do anything they want, as long as they respect certain limitation in volume. Limitation a normally constituted human cannot be able to reach. So everybody could write a twitter client, or an app that use this twitter API. Then they decided they wanted more control over what people where doing with twitter. Things have moved since the green movment in Iran and, now that Twotter has grown, they want more control.

First things they do, was to forbid third party clients, like the one I’ve used to use to access twitter on my old Nokia phone. 2 years later, I still have no idea of how I can access twitter from the OVI store, so I cannot use it. They makes some huge change on the Twitter API too, without maintaining complete public documentation, this has break a lot of compatibility with, for instance, They still never explained how the trending Topics and they responds to legitimate questionning about this important future (that’s how you know what’s happening now and near you) with ‘trust us, we’re not censoring anything (and look at the support page about trending topics:, there is no precise enough answer that could be used to infirm or confirm tweets.

I’m not saying they’re censoring Trending Topics however. They sell trending topics (you can see sponsored one in top of your list). They want control over the trends because that’s how they earn their lives and that’s what they sell to Nike, Disney or BlueCoat for instance. Since two years now, and after 2 major change in the interface and the way they display content, they have exerced a lot of control on how things are moving, they’ve penetrate a lot of new market (in Middle East, Africa, South America, etc) where activists use twitter to circumvent censorship because it’s a US based company, and then the US law are the only one that can be used to censor twitter.

The Wikileaks case

Look at wikileaks for instance. In November 2011, Twitter was forced by the US Justice Department to hand over all the information they had about three people, suspected to be linked to the organisation. A secret order in fatc, that would be revealed to the people under investigation once the investigation is done. Twitter defend the case, but they finally had to give out those information (but they could warn the users they were under investigation). The story is in the NY Times if you need more details. Google do not fight those, they just maintain a page where they put the request from a judge they received, ordered by country. For facebook, I’ve still never heard of such thing.

The things happening there is that a US Company own parts of your identity and they are under the US law (with the patriot Act). That gives to this governement a reach to all the twitter user. Including ones that are not even US citizen neither on the US soil. This is not a twitter problem, this is a legal problem. The centralized system everyone use fall under specific national laws that supersede the local one (amongst the target of the wikileaks thing, there were an Icelandic representative, from a country which have the strongest law arsenal to defend the source protection and the whistle blowers).

Things get big

Twitter has received a lot of money from different sources. They wnat to grow bigger. They want to get in Pakistan, Iran, China or India. They want to have local offices, or not to be banned by a country because ‘terrorists uses it’. So they say they will follow the law of each and every country they will be used. It means that, if Bashar el Assad, the still ruling dictator in Syria, aks for content he do not like must be removed in Syria, they will obey (they will follow the local law). You’ll still be able to see those horrible video and massacre live, but people on the ground won’t be able to talk to each other, because they won’t be there.

My point is, you’re yelling because you’re afradi Twitter will censor things. You should not be afraid of that. You should be afraid that twitter had previously censored tweets due to justice decision that should not apply to you. You should be afraid that all of those datas are centralized, teh same way megaupload, Google or Facebook are. You should be ashamed to reinforce it by using it to protest. You should be ashamed because you have not used a decentralised solution, either by using one that already exists such as or, or by setting one up with friend ( installation is documented). I know it’s hard, and I am to blame to because I use twitter, but move to a free cypherspace, you’ll see, they’re some nice people hanging there, is you’re looking for me, I am just right here:

Data must flow Enter the decentralized cypherspace

The version 1.0 of this post was written on 2012/01/27 by okhin. Relaesed under no licence or the WTFPL.