Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Who is threatening our Twitter users? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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With every moment that passes we realize our great need to express ourselves…

We need the absolute right to express an opinion or feeling. We need to declare a stance and call for demonstrations, we need to support, lament, protest or just communicate, and perhaps sometimes we just need to have fun. Whenever one of us is silenced he is effectively dead, even if his voice was virtual in the first place.

This [freedom of expression] is what we have gained from modern means of communication.

What is my status today on Facebook? How many “tweets” have I sent on Twitter? Did I upload any images or videos, and did others share them? Can I win the support of friends whom I do not know personally? Will they admire my posts or will they be repelled by my outspokenness?

These means of communication are taken for granted now and we cannot imagine our world without them. We are quick to defend the gains provided by our technologies, but it now seems that ulterior motives, whether financial or political, may seize some of them from us, or at least try to.

The latest group to come under threat is our Twitter users.

Every tweet we post on this website is accompanied by the user’s name, the time of the post, the country it was posted from and any responses to the tweet. We sometimes overlook these details given the sheer amount of times they appear, but now it seems we will have to be more mindful, after the website announced that it intends to incorporate a “censorship” feature, in what would surely be a backward step.

Twitter announced that it is going to undertake the censorship of tweets published on the website on a country-by-country basis, in an effort to block tweets that do not comply with the local laws of the country in question. This has come as a shock to millions of users and those who take an active interest in the website.

This decision, although disappointing, is not the first of its kind. Google, Ebay, Yahoo and Facebook have all proceeded to adopt the same thing; all of them have systems allowing them to remove certain content and information in a specific country, whilst it remains visible to the rest of the world.

This issue perhaps relates to the emergence of new markets such as China for example, which currently prevents Twitter operating and blocks many other sites. Or perhaps the issue goes further than this, and relates to something on a more global scale, namely the freedom of expression and the ability of regimes to circumvent it, and eat away at areas of expression that have become broader and smarter than their attempts to curtail them?

It is probably a combination of ulterior motives and the need to control and regulate, a need which has become urgent for regimes with multiple means of expression. In the space of one year, modern means of communication have helped to bring down four regimes in the Arab region, whilst another is currently shaking and doomed to extinction. Twitter’s latest announcement comes exactly a year after the Egyptian revolution, where the regime prior to its collapse resorted to disabling the internet and mobile telephone networks, thinking that this would sever communication links between the protestors and the rebels. At the time a student from the American University in Cairo devised an idea, quickly adopted by Google, whereby demonstrators in Egypt were provided with the technology to send messages to the Twitter website via telephone landlines.

So, it is never possible to achieve full control, but our minds do not rest assured on this idea alone. Every time we celebrated modern media for its capacity as a “game changer” in the revolutions, we were faced with new methods of circumvention.

To settle the matter, in all simplicity, we need to express ourselves, and we need a citizenship model that prescribes the right to express an opinion. This is what many are paying generously for with their own blood in order to achieve.