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Real-Time Frustration Over Twitter's New Policy

Jan 29, 2012
Originally published on January 30, 2012 3:43 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As Facebook moves towards more openness, Twitter is restricting some of its access. The social media site announced last week that it will censor any tweet deemed, quote, objectionable by certain governments. Twitter bills itself as a champion of free expression, and the move caused outrage among many. We reached out to Twitter for comment.

ALEXANDER MACGILLIVRAY: My name is Alexander Macgillivray, and I'm the general counsel of Twitter.

MARTIN: Macgillivray says there were a lot of factors to consider, like protecting Twitter employees from retaliation - especially those who live in countries that might raise objections, like China or Saudi Arabia. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Though Macgillivray said that protecting Twitter employees from retaliation was a factor, Twitter does not have a staff or business practice in either China or Saudi Arabia.]

MACGILLIVRAY: Freedom of expression is really important to us, so we wanted to keep more tweets up in more places, and we wanted to make sure that our users in the world would be able to see whether we're living up to our freedom of expression ideals.

MARTIN: Twitter says it will let users know when a tweet has been withheld by posting a notice, and a link, to ChillingEffects.org/Twitter, a website that tracks online censorship. But the tweet doesn't disappear. It can still be seen in countries where it hasn't been censored.

Critics say Twitter's move could have a far-reaching effect. Think of an Arab Spring without the galvanizing effect of thousands of tweets from protesters. Twitter's Alexander Macgillivray says that's not a fair criticism.

MACGILLIVRAY: Well, first of all, it overstates Twitter's role in those types of things. The revolutions would have happened with or without Twitter.

MARTIN: Some Twitter users around the world are protesting the company's action with a self-imposed tweeting blackout. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.