Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Twitter's pressures (to compromise its free speech ideals) could spread to independent sites

Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the challenges to Internet publishing and social media platforms again in a front page story by Shira Ovide, “Free speech a test for Twitter”, link (website url) here.   The online (paywall) story has a more detailed title: “For Twitter, free speech is a high-wire act: Twitter Inc.’s ambitions are making it harder to carry the Internet’s free-speech banner”.  Yes, a trace of Macbeth in the company’s situation.
Twitter is getting hammered by demands in other countries that it protect vulnerable users and comply with some anti-government censorship.  And, even as EFF as reported that Twitter will stand up to metadata disclosure requests from the US government in various investigations, it still finds constant pressures to turn over data.  This has become more problematic in the last two years or so as more users have made their posts “private” to approved followers only (this wasn’t common at first).  Some uses (especially celebrities and athletes) have a public feed (often professionally managed) and then a private one for friends which is not made visible to everyone.  Others remain more willing to share idiosyncratic thoughts with everyone. 
Twitter, as do Facebook and Google, says it has to comply with the laws of any country in which it operates.  True, but I wonder about the implications of such a statement of an individual who self-publishes but doesn’t require log-on or user “membership”.  Many “bloggers” or publishers like me accept and republish comments, but don’t require user identification (although we monitor for obvious inappropriateness or spam).  What if we travel to a foreign country (like Russia) where our content could be found by search engines .   Could we be arrested and held there?  Of course, an obvious answer is that a country can simply block us.  (I find that China blocks my content, but most other countries, including Russia and the Muslim world, seem to let it through.) 

What if a country tried to use extradition treaties go after a blogger, or even someone who had made some particular comments on a blog?
Unlike a service provider, I have no capability myself to make my content country-specific (for limitations).   It’s interesting, though, that Blogger affixes a tld  (like “.de” or “.nl”) based on the country name overseas to each blog, leaving some people the incorrect impression that the blog content is country-specific (I’ve gotten at least one email on that point already.)

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