And so Twitter has announced that it will censor Tweets in countries where it is requested to do so. On the one hand it sounds a fairly half-hearted attempt at censorship – offending Tweets will still be available in the rest of the world, and there’s a suspiciously easy work-around that makes you wonder just how committed Twitter is to this initiative.
But that’s not the point. Sure, there’s a work-around; the fact that a work-around is even necessary is the frightening part. Needless to say, the outcry has been greatest in countries where social media helped co-ordinate movements of massive social change. Already the 28 January has been designated as a day to boycott Twitter for 24 hours, echoing the recent shut-down of major sites as a protest against SOPA. This has caused anger in a lot of people.
And why not? Only this week it was announced that the US has dropped 27 places in the press freedom index – in the light of this, what do Twitter’s actions mean for the revolution in citizen journalism?
Privacy and censorship have reignited the ancient battles for the soul of the internet, and while the Ultimate Fighting Championship calling Anonymous ‘terrorists’ seems to be slightly bizarre hyperbole, it’s also the sort of rhetoric that can eventually lead to demonisation and repressive legislation. And while this too may seem like a paranoid conspiracy theory, in a world where people are, right now, dying in their pursuit of freedom, it’s worth noting that today is Holocaust Memorial Day.
Our societies are more fragile than we imagine. They need to be defended.