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Twitter Announces It May Now "Withhold" Different Tweets In Different Countries

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, January 26 2012

Twitter announced on its blog Thursday that it has built for itself the ability to change what messages appear in your Twitter feed depending on what country you're in.

The result is a selectively censored Twitter experience, based on the laws of the user's country. It comes nearly one year ago to the day since Twitter announced, "Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users' right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed." Twitter frames the move as an effort to comply with local laws, retain the ability to stay up in a given country and be as open and transparent as possible about the process.

"In the face of a valid and applicable legal order," Twitter spokeswoman Jodi Olson wrote to me in an email, "the choice facing services is between global removal of content with no notice to the user, or a transparent, targeted approach where the content is removed only in the country in question."

Requests to withhold tweets will be posted to Chilling Effects, which hosts a compendium of takedown requests. Twitter's DMCA takedown requests are already hosted there.

From the blog post:

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. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

In the blog post, Twitter promises to be as transparent about this process as it can.

Olson explains:

Freedom of expression and transparency will continue to be our guide. If and when we withhold content in a specific country, users will know because 1) we’ll promptly notify the affected users; 2) we’ll clearly indicate to viewers that a Tweet or Account has been withheld, and 3) we’ll share the request to withhold content with Chilling Effects, to make public.

It looks like Marketingland was first to this news. The blocking is done by IP address; Marketingland's Danny Sullivan points us to the help page for Twitter's new country-selection feature, which has more information about how to get around a bad guess on Twitter's part.

This post has been updated multiple times with new information.

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