Russia Pleased With Twitter Censorship? Be Afraid

Governments know they can’t get user data out of Twitter without a warrant, but they CAN do something that’s almost as bad: censor people with Twitter’s blessing.

Granted, Twitter has (fast and loose) rules around this as well, but you have to wonder WHAT is going on when the Kremlin, a place that isn’t known for embracing freedom of expression, is praising Twitter for blocking tweets.

If they’re happy with the response they’re getting, you shouldn’t be.

Twitter’s take on censorship is clear:

As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. 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.

PJ Media is calling this Twitter’s “under the radar appeasement” – and really is when you think about it. The hard thing would be to draft set guidelines outlining illegal material by country. This would prevent abuse – or at least slow it down a bit. The other hard solution would be to just say no to censorship.

The easy way, the “under the radar appeasement” way, is what Twitter is doing. And it’s entirely Un. Cool.

According to The Moscow Times “Twitter has agreed to block access to accounts or posts that have been blacklisted by Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision in Telecommunications, Information Technology and Mass Communications.” This departement with the superlong name is an online “watchdog,” apparently.

Since early March, the administration of the microblogging site has “actively been engaged in cooperation” with the information watchdog, already deleting one user’s account and restricting access in Russia to “five information materials” at the request of the information watchdog, the statement said.

“Two of the materials, according to experts’ conclusions, [were restricted] for assisting the distribution of narcotics, and three others — for promoting suicidal thoughts. Another account was deleted for advertising a network for the distribution of drugs. The service was notified of this today,” the statement said.

How does one promote suicidal thoughts? Does this mean it’s illegal to be depressed in Russia? THAT’s depressing! And it calls the other “expert conclusions” into question, don’t you think?

“The management’s constructive attitude has now allowed us to formulate a mutually acceptable scheme for interaction, allowing for the further processing of information from the register in acceptable terms for the Russian side,” the watchdog’s press service said.

The microblogging site identifies its Russian users by IP address and restricts access for those users to materials contained on the watchdog’s blacklist.

Does this mean Twitter not only restricts illegal tweets from posting in a given country, but also prevents (Russian) users from seeing any tweets containing “restricted” material on Twitter? If that’s the case, the Egypt uprising (that Twitter so proudly shares as an example of why it’s such a powerful, world-changing platform) wouldn’t have happened – would it?

We reached out to Twitter for comment and will update when we hear back.

Update: Check out this page to learn more about “country withheld content.”

What country are you from? Are you worried?

HT: Hunter Bickford (@AHBick) for tweeting us a link to this story.

(Image from Shutterstock)