Sunday, 29 January 2012

Can Twitter Really Censor?

 Thursday, January 26, 2012 Twitter announced that it will censor tweets on a country-by-country basis depending on the laws in the countries; and only when a legal order instructs them to.

Which all seems fine. But is it?

I'm presuming for a tweet to be classed as illegal in any country it must exist. After all I doubt even Twitter would try to censor thoughts. But if a tweet has to exist then obviously somebody would have seen it as Twitter is real-time.

So, Twitter will be removing the tweets which break some law in some country after the tweet has been seen.

That is all well and good from a certain standpoint. But will Twitter be actually checking the validity of these alleged legal orders to remove tweets?

In theory if #RIPObama became a trending topic on Twitter the Whitehouse legal team could instruct Twitter to remove all tweets in the United States which contain the offending hashtag. Do Twitter just do it because some legal order says so? Or do they look at the order and decide that the order has no real legal basis and is in fact a violation of United States law by trying to impede a first Amendment right to free speech?

Chances are that Twitter will go with the legal order. Which in turn opens a thousand possible lawsuits against Twitter for impeding free speech in countries that allow it.

When Twitter takes out a tweet it does so; and sends a report to (which is a collaborative archive created by several law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect lawful online activity from legal threats.)

Well one such tweet that was on the list was a tweet about some sheet music. The user had stated in the tweet that the sheet music was available on The Pirate Bay website.

Now, the Twitter user wasn't actually hosting the sheet music; and as such was not distributing it. All the user was doing was saying here is a link to where I saw it on the Internet. The Twitter user was not asking for money for supplying the link and the Twitter user is not supported by advertising for supplying this link. To all intended purposes the Twitter user was merely passing on information; which was a link to another website.

If there was any legal challenge in all of this it would have been whoever was actually hosting the sheet music for download. Not to promote illegal activity but I have seen enough musicians with photocopied music sheets; taking a single track out of a book of music titles. Anyone want to start monitoring photocopiers for copyright infringements? I thought not.

Anyway, back to the point. With this whole censoring tweets which may be illegal - are Twitter going to remove, and block, all tweets which mention the word "google"?

Google is actually defined at as:

"Google (n) - Trademark. Brand name of a leading Internet search engine, founded in 1998.

Google (v) - (1)To search the Internet for information about (a person, topic, etc.): We googled the new applicant to check her background. (2) To use a search engine such as Google to find information, a Web site address, etc., on the Internet."

So, the term Google can mean to find a web address. So if someone types in "The Pirate Bay" into Google; then Google will direct them right there.

So what is the difference between a Twitter user doing something that Google does a few million times a day? Google, via advertising revenue, actually gets paid to send you to illegal information on the Internet.

Therefore, Twitter it is on you. You want to censor tweets, which is almost impossible without mistakes (of which I am sure lawsuits will arise), make sure you do it fairly. Anyone mentions Google, because it supplies links to illegal material in most countries, by the standard of tweets that have been removed; so must all mentions of Google.

And there is the other side of all this censoring on Twitter. If you see Google on your timeline you could in theory blame Twitter for allowing the word Google to be shown; and thus allowing you to think of using Google for a search for illegal information. You are practically in the clear for this downloading of illegal material as the courts go after Twitter (with money) and Google (with more money) instead of you (not as much money).

So will the censoring of tweets by Twitter really work? No, but it will allow some over-zealous attorneys to make money as the lawsuits start rolling in.

Legal Notice: None of the information in this post, or any post on this blog, should be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice seek an attorney. This post is merely opinion with regards to law.

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