Twitter, a service reputed for its free-wheeling and libertarian ways in the Western world, recently surprised many users and observers with its change in policy of meeting the censorship requirements of specific countries.
In a blog post published last week it explained that it would take down tweets or accounts of users in countries where it receives a censorship order. That being said, it will not remove them from the sight of Twitter users in other countries.
According to the new announcement, it plans to redact messages only in countries where they are illegal and only if the authorities there make a valid request.
So, in principle, if one posts a message promoting Nazi ideology, it will be blocked to Twitter users in Germany, but remain available elsewhere.
Many regard this declaration of adapting to local censorship laws as a pragmatic move as Twitter expands into an increasing number of countries. As the blog post said, "As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression."
It is important for it to respect the cultures and ideas of different countries so as to blend into local environments harmoniously. This is normal practice. To some extent, it is a necessary step in the evolution of Twitter. But many of its users, particularly some political activists and dissidents, have found it unacceptable.
Since the news came out, Twitter has been the target of much criticism. Some declared that they would stop tweeting if Twitter started censoring.
And a professor in the US told media that the announcement suggested someone or something else needed to take Twitter's place as a political tool.
Twitter's announcement might have shattered some people's illusions about the world of social networking.
Networks like Facebook and Twitter played a big role in pushing forward the events including both the Arab Spring and riots in London last year. The tendency has prompted governments to curb the use of social networking platforms in times of emergency. But there is also some debate on the boundaries of the freedom of speech.
It is impossible to have boundless freedom, even on the Internet and even in countries that make freedom their main selling point.
The announcement of Twitter might have shown that it has already realized the fact and made a choice between being an idealistic political tool as many hope and following pragmatic commercial rules as a company.