By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Thailand and China have welcomed Twitter’s controversial new censorship policy.
Thailand’s Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap said on January 30 that Twitter ‘s new policy was a “constructive” development and praised the website for “cooperating with governments to make sure basic rights are not violated through the use of social media.”
The Southeast Asian country enforces tough censorship laws and routinely blocks websites with content deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy. Last December, authorities sentenced an American man to 2-1/2 years in jail for a blog posting that they said insulted the Thai king.
In China, the state-run newspaper “Global Times” also welcomed the new rules in an editorial on January 30.
“It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the Internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point,” it said.
China has been designated by the Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters without Borders as a leading enemy of the Internet because of its extensive online censorship system.
Twitter announced last week that it will allow country-specific censorship of content that could violate national laws. The San Francisco-based company said the policy shift was necessary because Twitter is entering new markets in “countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.”
The new policy means governments can ask Twitter to block tweets they consider illegal, and Twitter will comply with the request. Users elsewhere will be able to see messages that are withheld.
‘Too Fast’ For Censorship
Google, eBay, and Facebook all use similar systems to control content in certain countries, but Twitter’s announcement has outraged democracy activists who are concerned that the new policy could undermine its role as a platform for free speech in authoritarian and repressive countries.
Activists across the Arab world have used Twitter and other social media websites to spread the word about their protests and in some cases, to coordinate their gatherings.
Reporters Without Borders said the decision was bad news for online freedom of expression.
Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School told the “New York Times” that the changes could undermine the usefulness of Twitter as a political tool.
But U.S.-based scholar and free speech advocate Zeyneb Tufekci called Twitter’s announcement “an excellent policy which will be helpful to free speech advocates.”
She also noted that the users can avoid having their remarks censored by simply changing their ‘home country’ designation in their account setting, which she said Twitter “helpfully” explains how to do.
Ilya Varlamov, a prominent Russian blogger and a co-founder of the League of Voters, a grassroots group that promotes fair elections, meanwhile said “Twitter is too fast” for censorship.