By Luke Fretwell / Nov 24, 2009
Great video of how the Salt Lake Valley Health Department uses social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to communicate H1N1 information to citizens and media.
Connect with SLVHD:
(HT Steve Lunceford)
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Great post & perspective as always, Alex.
Still, the line from Twitter’s blog post — “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression”
(followed by calling out Germany and France as the examples) — sends chills down my spine.
Thank you, Tanya. The phrase “contours of freedom of expression” seems to have resonated with many people.
Thank you for cross-posting your comment over from Facebook, Daniela. Often, those conversations don’t boomerang back to a blog post. It will be interesting to see how more Twitter users, particularly journalists, react.
It’s refreshing to not read so much *snark as in York’s blog and Twitter feed (which kind of surprised me…). While I don’t have a firm grip on the legalities here, I agree with the sentiment of folks who find this troubling. I think Daniela makes a valid point, and you summed up my initial reaction when you wrote: “Let’s hope they uphold that commitment and share raw data about the censorship requests.” How will we know, and why should we trust Twitter to comply? It’ll be interesting to see how this story develops.
If I understand this correctly, Twitter is saying that in rare cases they will block tweets if they have staff in a particular country and are given a court order to obey local laws that restrict speech. Isn’t that the case with pretty much every multinational Internet company wanting to set up shop in different countries? Assuming that’s the case, as far as I know they’re the first company to go public and explain the situation, as well as offer transparency about it. So, if you take some of the theoretical examples being mentioned, like blocking tweets in Iran, Twitter would likely not do anything, because they don’t have staff in Iran, and Iran has the technology to block whatever it wants anyway, and doesn’t need Twitter’s assistance. More likely, we could see situations like France or Germany wanting to enforce their laws against Nazi content. But what happens if Turkey says block all reference to Armenian genocide? Until it happens, there’s no way to know whether Twitter would comply or tell them to shove off.
Ugh! The worst thing about all this isn’t even Twitter — Twitter is a business and does what businesses do, serve its own interest.
The worst thing about all this is seeing all the gurus who claim to be for Internet freedom stump for Twitter’s craven cave to dictators (the same people who mistakenly hype SOPA as censorship, or demand government interference for “net neutrality” but can’t tolerate it to fight the crime of piracy).
Andy, can you really not grasp what it means to legitimize the censorship in the countries you cover by turning it all into a lovely global conversation where everybody gets to paw over the tweets and “decide” if maybe the censorship is legit or not?! Twitter has already said it will comply with court orders — whether the “law” in some of those countries is just or not isn’t something that seems to trouble Twitter or various “Internet Freedom” gurus.
Twitter should just not set up shop in any way in any country that blocks it and not worry if some country does. It’s not clear that Twitter is saying “only countries with staff,” either. A court order doesn’t need a physical office in a country to be served.
Thanks for writing such a well-researched and informative overview of what this decision by Twitter means.
While the benefits of seeing that a tweet has been removed far surpass the tweet simply disappearing, the biggest issue is going to be discerning what constitutes an illegal tweet to begin with. And whether the removal is based on a “remove first, question later” protocol, in which case a decision to restore a tweet after consideration may be too late to achieve the desired impact (such as attend an impromptu rally).
It’s also worth noting that we are still governed by certain provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. And while Twitter’s cooperation with Chilling Effects is to be applauded, articulation of the censorship request is not always available as tool to counter an unreasonable request for action by a government or corporation.
In June 1999 the United States government ordered my company at the time, ApolloMedia, to disclose the identity of a user of our site Annoy.com’s electronic greeting card service. The service, which still exists, among other things, facilitates anonymous communications. The information they were seeking followed a similar attempt in April 1999 by the University of Houston, which had tried unsuccessfully to obtain our user records.
Along with the demand for the records, the court slapped a gag order on ApolloMedia as well. We were ordered to refrain from discussing not only the content of the order with anyone until authorized by the court, but the very existence of the order and its application. The unprecedented blanket gag order was unlimited in time and scope. It took a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to get the District Court to lift the gag order, enabling us to finally discuss the entire story as well as our role in it.
“The gag order violated the First Amendment ban on prior restraints and the statutory requirement that it have a definite duration. It was not issued upon affidavits establishing probable cause. It did not arise during an investigation of a bomb threat or kidnapping or comparably serious crime,” was the core of our case. The courts agreed. One expensive year later. (See http://annoy.com/history/doc.html?DocumentID=100034 )
The year prior, ApolloMedia has successfully won Supreme Court lawsuit against the United States, ApolloMedia v. Reno challenging a provision of the Communications Decency Act that criminalized “indecent” Web content intended to “annoy”.
The court reinterpreted the law to apply to obscene communications only, rather than strike down the provision entirely, which is what I had wanted. However, a core lesson we learnt during that case was that the line between a service provider and a content provider is significant. And the extent to which a service provider is protected from liability for third-party content, is significantly increased the moment the service provider begins exercising editorial control. And that is just in the United States.
As we explore Twitter’s latest move, we need to be cognizant of the fact that Twitter may not elect to challenge every request which could become a very expensive proposition. And that it could be that by the time we are even made aware of the removal of a tweet, the revolution it might have sparked is long forgotten.
What about writing down what you want to tweet, take a picture of it and tweet the pic? Could they censor that as well?
I find the overwrought media reaction to Twitter’s move and subsequent posts laced with falsehoods to be far worse than the considered, informed responses from the EFF, Center for Democracy and Technology, York or Tufecki to be more problematic.
To that point, you misquoted me, perhaps in the rush to impugn me: Danny Sullivan wrote that there’s “no need to hit the panic button” — although as I wrote, I largely agree with him.
Similarly, your characterization of this post as “gushing” is in-line with your past defamatory attacks upon my employer, colleagues, character and work, along with that of others. Readers of this blog unfamiliar with you will be able to drawn their own conclusions your blog and tweets as @catfitz or @prokofy. I am content to let my own words and actions, with respect to Internet freedom and online freedom of expression, speak for themselves.
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