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Activists and Bloggers Fear Twitter Censorship

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
San Francisco TAG — Bloggers and activists from China, the Middle East and Latin America said they were afraid that new Twitter policies could allow governments to censor messages, stifling free expression.

The announcement that Twitter had refined its technology to censor messages on a country-by-country basis raised fears that the company's commitment to free speech may be weakening. Twitter is trying to broaden its audience and make more money by expanding around the globe.
"I'm afraid it's a slippery slope of censorship," said social media commentator Jeff Jarvis, interviewed at a gathering of business and government leaders in Davos, Switzerland on Friday.
"I understand why Twitter is doing this — they want to be able to enter more countries and deal with the local laws. But, as Google learned in China, when you become the agent of the censor, there are problems there," he added.
Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem, who tweets and blogs under the name "Sandmonkey," questioned in a tweet whether Twitter "is selling us out."
Twitter sees the censorship tool as a way to ensure individual messages, or tweets, remain available to as many people as possible while it navigates a gauntlet of different laws around the world.
Before, when Twitter erased a tweet it disappeared throughout the world. Now, a tweet containing content breaking a law in one country can be taken down there and still be seen elsewhere.
Twitter will post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed. Twitter also plans to the share the removal requests it receives from governments, companies and individuals at the chillingeffects.org website.
In China, where activists quickly caught on to Twitter despite it being blocked inside the country, artist and activist Ai Weiwei tweeted Friday: "If Twitter censors, I'll stop tweeting."
Nelson Bocaranda, a Venezuelan journalist, radio host and outspoken opponent of President Hugo Chavez, warned that Twitter's decision could prompt a government crackdown on critics' tweets ahead of the Oct. 7 presidential election.
"Twitter has become a weapon to preserve our embattled democracy," said Bocaranda, who has more than 482,000 followers.
Twitter is "an important tool" for Venezuelans to share information as local media resort to self-censorship as means of avoiding conflict with government officials, Bocaranda added.
Salem, the Egyptian activist, added in a tweet on his account: "This is very bad news."
"Is it safe to say that (hash)Twitter is selling us out?" he wrote.
"Clearly there is a huge user backlash against this latest move by Twitter," said blogger Mike Butcher, editor of Tech Crunch Europe.
"It was seen as one of the few platforms that was free of any kind of censorship, heavily used during for example Arab spring and even in Russia lately over protests over the elections. It is, to some extent, something that we could have predicted," Butcher said.
In its Thursday blog post, Twitter said it hadn't yet used its ability to wipe out tweets in an individual country. All the tweets it has previously censored were wiped out throughout the world. Most of those included links to child pornography.[]
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