Twitter’s New Censorship Laws

In recent years, social media networks have proven to be an outlet for individuals to share personal views and opinions with the world.  However, Twitter’s new censorship laws could dramatically change whether individuals can actually express their viewpoints over this social media site.  Early in 2012, Twitter announced that it would allow for country-specific censorship laws.  Accordingly, Twitter content would be censored based on the country the individuals are located when reading content.  This will allow Twitter to comply with local government requests to remove or block content based on that country’s laws.   So, what censorship laws apply to the material on the web?  Interestingly, the law of the jurisdiction where material on the web is read, not written, governs the content.  This is the basis of Twitter’s new censorship laws.  They aim to cater to individual countries’ internet laws.

How Will This Affect American Laws and the Freedom of Expression?

The freedom of expression allows for a broad right for individuals to voice ideas and opinions in public without the fear of retaliation from opponents or the government.  Twitter argues that this new standard does not implicate the constitutional right freedom of expression.  Under Twitter’s new system, a tweet that is erased for breaking a law in one country may still be accessible in another country where the same legal standard does not apply.  Nonetheless, commentators point to how helpful Twitter has been during international crises (e.g., civil war in Syria).  Allowing governments to censor these posts may threaten lives.  This controversial policy deals with the conflicts of domestic and international laws.  Indeed, the fear is that the differences in laws will lead to high degrees of censorship in some regions.  Unfortunately, this will result in overall digression in the freedom of expression that societies have worked hard to protect.

How Will This Affect Freedom of Speech Rights In the International Community?

In fact, some foreign governments have expressed support for Twitter’s new policy.  Both Thailand and China have made statements praising the change.  Thailand emphasized that the country is looking for equal levels of cooperation from Google and Facebook.  Under Twitter’s new standard, individuals, companies, or the government could request that Twitter block a post.  Nonetheless, the same post could still be seen in other countries where it is not in violation of local laws.  In China, a local newspaper explained that it is impossible to have “boundless freedom” anywhere in response to the uproar in other countries over the new policy.  Interestingly, Twitter is entirely blocked in China.  The international concerns center on the reality that there are far more repressive nations around the world.  If social media networks allow nations to take advantage of censorship laws, then societies that are more repressive will use these laws to further limit individual rights within their jurisdiction.  Ultimately, the focus is on what comes next.  Namely, which website will allow for censorship next and to what extent will these policies continue to limit expression on the web.

At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, we are knowledgeable and experienced in a wide range of areas dealing with international laws and regulations.  To further discuss freedom of expression over the Internet or related censorship standards you may contact us to speak with an attorney.