How Would Twitter Handle A Crackdown On Free Speech In Saudi Arabia?
from the questions-questions-questions... dept
Twitter has put itself out there as being a strong defender of free speech, arguing that it’s not just a principled stand, but one that provides the company with a competitive advantage. Standing up for free speech is good — not just for people, but for Twitter too. There was a series of stories highlighting this aspect of Twitter in the past few months, where Twitter’s top lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, said things like the following:
“We value the reputation we have for defending and respecting the user’s voice,” Mr. Macgillivray said in an interview here at Twitter headquarters. “We think it’s important to our company and the way users think about whether to use Twitter, as compared to other services.”
With that in mind, it’s interesting to see just how much “free speech” via Twitter has taken off in places like Saudi Arabia. The NY Times has an interesting discussion on how Twitter has become a surprisingly open channel for critics of the Saudi regime.
Open criticism of this country’s royal family, once unheard-of, has become commonplace in recent months. Prominent judges and lawyers issue fierce public broadsides about large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women deride the clerics who limit their freedoms. Even the king has come under attack.
All via Twitter. So far, the government has let this continue — even as members of the royal family are often directly called out and, at times, accused of corruption. Some think that the government is hoping that letting people vent on Twitter will keep them from venting in the streets. But there is still fear that things might change and a real crackdown could be on the way.
And that could represent a real challenge for Twitter. Remember, just last week, it agreed to block a neo-nazi group’s Twitter feed in Germany. And, there are also reports that it recently removed a bunch of anti-semitic tweets, potentially for terms of service violations. And that is worrying some people.
Several Twitter users posting under the hashtag criticized the decision to delete the anti-Semitic posts, calling it censorship. A user calling himself Andre said: “Better to educate than censure. Shame on you Twitter.” Another, Craig McLeod, asked, “Who decides what is anti-Semitic and abusive?”
Considering all that, as Mathew Ingram has asked: what happens if Saudi Arabia suddenly declares the criticism its government is facing is illegal? Then what does Twitter do? Does it decide that the openness is something it wants to support as free speech… or does it abide by the law and block those accounts? Suddenly, the problem is a lot more challenging.
I don’t know that there’s an easy answer, but it does seem that once you compromise on one front, it becomes somewhat more difficult to justify a principled stand elsewhere…