Twitter has been lauded for its ability to galvanize the masses. Its effective channel of mass communication has been credited with bringing down decades-old iron-fisted regimes like those we saw in Tunisia and Egypt. Even the then-popular Occupy Movement gained much attention and clout via the Twitter medium.
However, in an unfortunate and ironic twist of events, Twitter announced last Thursday what it describes as a commitment to free speech, a technology update that allows the censorship of messages on a country-by-country basis.
In China, the state-run newspaper, the Global Times, praised the move. It wrote:
Over in Thailand, the Information and Communication Technology permanent secretary said it would be in touch with Twitter shortly to discuss the way in which they could collaborate, calling it a “welcome development” that would ensure tweets are disseminated in a way that is compliant with local law.
The South East Asian country enforces tough censorship laws and routinely blocks websites deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy. Last year, a 55 year-old American was sentenced to to two and a half years in prison for violating country’s strict lèse-majesté law, which prohibits defaming or insulting the Thai King.
Since December, over 1,000 websites have been blocked by the Thai authorities on the grounds of anti-monarchy content. According to the ICT secretary, the ministry already receives “good cooperation” from companies like Google and Facebook in ensuring Thai laws are respected.
In response to Twitter’s announcement, France-based Reporters Without Borders wrote an open letter to Twitter’s Executive Chairman James Dorsey, urging him to “reverse the decision” arguing that “Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”
Since the announcement, Twitter users and free speech advocates have threatened to boycott Twitter.
“Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?” asked Mahmoud Salem, a respected Egyptian blogger.