I have to thank @MettaFilms via Twitter for pointing this out. This policy (and policy area) is so new to me that I don't know how to begin to think about it. But it obviously exists, so I thought I'd do what my Twitter friend did for me — point it out.
Twitter has a country-specific censorship policy. Who knew?
Here's the main part (my emphasis):
Country Withheld ContentThe page goes on to talk about how they love transparency and free expression. Of course.
Why Might Content Be Withheld?
If you have encountered a Tweet or an account that has been marked as withheld, you may be wondering what that means and why that may have happened. With hundreds of millions of Tweets posted every day around the world, our goal is to respect our users' expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws.
Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.
We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, and clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld. We have also expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to include the publication of requests to withhold content in addition to the DMCA notifications that we already transmit.
So I clicked on Chilling Effects and saw their current list of "take down this Tweet" complaints. At the time I looked, all were DMCA-related (there's a SOPA and PIPA element to this; DMCA is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act).
This is from a random complaint. A law firm writes:
The tweet references sheet music of copyrighted compositions written by our clients Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and alerts Twitter users of a pirate site distributing the sheet music without authorization.So three points:
1. I have no idea how long this policy has been in effect. Weeks? Years? Most of my mayfly Twitter life? Dunno.
2. It's apparently "illegal" to distribute links; not pirated material, just links.
Is it really illegal? I seriously doubt it, since the link is just a pointer to something, not the thing itself. But the Feds are acting like it is. (More from an earlier pre–Super Bowl instance here.)
Regardless, Twitter is acting as though every lawyer with a suit and an IP complaint can put the kabosh on ... tweets. Guess there's money at stake, and even at Twitter, CEOs must have needs.
3. While this looks like it's just a greedy property-rights squeeze ("My client wants the last dime off the last table in the last room his song is being played") — there's an obvious political angle.
Do the Saudis censor tweets related to, oh, solar power? Anti-Wahhabi teachings? Comments unfriendly to a certain widespread kingly family?
And what are our take-down practices, here in the land of freedom? Twitter again:
Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so...Wasn't it part of the (delightfully named) PATRIOT Act that when the Feds do stuff to you, you can't be told about it? I lose track of how much freedom I've lost; it changes day by day. Maybe that was in another country, where rule of law's not dead.
This implications of this policy clearly need more investigation, but the policy itself is not in dispute. So here's my due diligence to you — be aware.
By the way, if you'd like to risk your own Internet freedom and follow me on Twitter, I'd be glad to share the risk with you.
Yours in 140 [grayed out] characters,