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Is Twitter becoming dictator-friendly?

BANGKOK (SE): The term Twitter Revolution has been in wide use during the Arab Spring, with walls of Middle East capital cities covered with messages thanking the network for its support during troubled times.

However, Reporters Without Borders is asking if these notes of thanks may already obsolete, as the site has announced that it is introducing country-specific censorship in order to satisfy local laws.

A noted blogger, Wael Abbas, from Egypt, told Al Jazeera television, “I know that some of the people working for Twitter were activists … If we look at countries like Egypt, like Syria, like Yemen, of course all our tweets are breaking the law. And that’s what activists do, they break the law because they want to make changes to these unjust laws. They have the right to do that, and if you prevent them from this right then you are attacking human rights itself.”

In a letter to the chairperson of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, dated January 27, Reporters Without Borders was critical of threatened cooperation with Internet censors and urged the company to reverse its decision.

In recent times, it developed a Speak2Tweet application that allowed people in Egypt to tweet, despite being deprived of the Internet at the height of the Tahir Square occupation.

The reporters’ human rights arm says that it is no surprise that the first welcome the proposed censorship received came from the government of Thailand.

The group says, “It has blocked tens of thousands of Web pages, in particular on the grounds of lèse-majesté, a charge used as a weapon against government critics.”

Thai law prescribes a prison sentence of between three and 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king or queen, the heir-apparent or the regent.

A spokesperson for Twitter said that all requests for censorship would be treated on a case-by-case basis and freedom of expression would be taken into account when making a decision, adding that it is probably only able to censor comments in one country, leaving them free to the rest of the world.

Reporters Without Borders says that the fear of uncontrolled censorship is real, given that Twitter’s argument implies that freedom of expression can be interpreted differently from country to country.

The organisation notes that Dorsey first released this information after a visit to China, where he expressed the hope that his company would one day be allowed to operate there.

Reporters Without Borders is calling on Twitter to “reassess the repercussions of the new strategy on freedom of information and also on the company’s future development. The commercial benefits achieved in new markets must not be the only criterion taken into account.”

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