MANHATTAN (CN) – Reporters Without Borders joined the chorus of outrage following Twitter’s announcement that it might enforce country-specific censorship.
Twitter made the controversial announcement on its blog on Thursday night. “As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” the post states. “Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.”
“Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country – while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”
The announcement comes weeks after Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the second largest shareholder in News Corp. after Rupert Murdoch, invested $300 million in Twitter.
Within hours, users created the hashtag #TwitterBlackout to announce a boycott of the social media company on Saturday.
Reporters Without Borders, whose 2011-12 Press Freedom Index was largely devoted to the journalist clampdowns caused by mass protests worldwide, wrote a letter urging Twitter chairman James Dorsey to reconsider the announcement.
“By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization,” Dorsey wrote.
The organization’s director echoed this sentiment. “We are very disturbed by this decision, which is nothing other than local level censorship carried out in cooperation with local authorities and in accordance with local legislation, which often violates international free speech standards,” Olivier Basille wrote. “Twitter’s position that freedom of expression is interpreted differently from country to country is inacceptable. This fundamental principle is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Basille worried that the new policy would stifle social movements worldwide.
“Does your new policy mean that references on Twitter to Arab revolutions and demonstrations in Manama will no longer be accessible in Bahrain? Will Vietnamese using your social network from their country no longer be able to tweet about bauxite mining’s harmful impact on the environment? Are you going to block tweets about the demands of Turkey’s Kurdish minority? Will Russian Internet users see their criticisms of the government censored?”
The Reporters Without Borders director also questioned whether Twitter adopted the policy to placate Chinese censors.
“Was your decision motivated by the desire to penetrate the Chinese market at all costs?” Basille asked. “You recently visited China and voiced the hope that Twitter would one day be permitted. You cannot be unaware of the success of Chinese micro-blogging platforms such as Sina Weibo, which are forced to cooperate with the authorities and impose permanent censorship.”
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, celebrated as a dissident in the documentary “Never Sorry,” tweeted, “If Twitter starts censoring, I’ll stop tweeting.”
According to Hashtags.org, #TwitterBlackout did not even register as a trend before midnight on Friday, and then climbed to approximately 1 out of every 2,000 tweets by midday.
Twitter has faced speculation about censorship before. In November, Occupy Wall Street activists said the movement’s hashtag was not trending as often as it should.
Twitter denied the charge.