2012, ACTA, Amnesty International, Anonymous, Arab Spring, Blogger, China, Country code top-level domain, Egypt, Exposing The Truth, Free, Free Speech, Freedom, Freedom of speech, Google, Human Rights, Life, New World Order, News, Occupy, People, PIPA, Protest, SOPA, Truth, Turkey, Twitter, Universe, World News
By: ROB WAUGH
Google joins Twitter in censorship storm: Site may now block blog posts in line with requests from oppressive regimes
- Blog posts will be blocked at national government request
- Campaigners fear ‘the end of the global internet community’
- But Google claims move will allow MORE free speech
Google’s informal motto is ‘don’t be evil’, but a huge change to its Blogger service could see the search giant help oppressive governments stamp out voices of protest.
Bloggers who have relied on the popular service to organise dissent as seen during the Arab Spring could find their posts being blocked by Google itself.
The company will now block posts or blogs from being seen in a country if they their local laws, handing a victory to regimes that crack down on free speech to keep a lid on dissent.
The move has caused widespread concern – and echoes Twitter’s recent decision to block Tweets on a similar ‘per country’ basis to comply with local laws.
Internet freedom group Open Net Initiative said of Twitter’s recent policy change, ‘The change marks a new trend in American Internet companies bowing to the demands of authoritarian regimes.’
Amnesty International said, ‘As with other sectors, business decisions in the digital world have human rights implications. Human rights monitors and advocates have a lot more work to do since the digital revolution.’
‘Our collective vigilance is needed more than ever.’
Thailand heartily backed Twitter’s recent decision to block Tweets at the request of governments, as did China’s state-run newspaper.
But Google claims that the move will actually allow more freedom of speech.
The blogs will be visible from everywhere else in the world, but invisible in one country.
‘This will allow us to continue promoting free expression while providing greater flexibility in complying with valid removal requests in local law,’ said the company.
Blogger, a blogging service which launched in 1999, and was bought by Google in 2003, has previously been banned outright in repressive regimes such as Syria, Iran and China.
Blog services and social sites such as Twitter and Facebook were crucial to the recent ‘Arab Spring’ revolts in countries such as Egypt – acting as a conduit for news and carrying messages of freedom and democracy.
During the week running up to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation the number of Tweets about political change in Egypt rose tenfold.
Google and Twitter claim that their move will simply allow their services to co-exist with regimes, rather than being banned outright.
But many were concerned that the move could lead to protesting voices being silenced for good.
Tech blog Techdirt said, ‘If more and more companies follow the lead of Google and Twitter, as seems quite likely, it could represent the beginning of the end of the truly global Internet.’
‘In its place will be an online world subject to a patchwork of local laws.’
Read Write Web was more optimistic, ‘This is a way around censorship. Would you rather Blogger and Twitter be blocked in some countries outright?’
Neither Google nor Twitter are currently available in China due to the censorship demands of the government.
Both openly share the number of censorship demands they have received from governments around the world.
‘We believe that access to information is the foundation of a free society. Where content is illegal or breaks our terms of service we will continue to remove it,’ said a Google spokesperson.
Whether bloggers within repressive regimes will see it that way is open to question – their posts could become invisible to their audience.
Google ‘buried’ its policy change in a page of technical information about Blogger changing to separate internet domains for each country.
Previously, Blogger has been handled through one international domain.
CENSORSHIP ON THE NET: THE GOVERNMENTS THAT COULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GOOGLE AND TWITTER’S NEW POLICIES
Prior to its policy shift, Blogger had been blocked inSyria, Myanmar, Iran and China on various occasions – and had been subject to filtering in various Muslim countries in the wake of the 2006 controversy about Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
When Twitter announced that it would begin blocking Tweets in individual countries, Thailand’s technology minister Jeerawan Boonperm described the move as ‘a welcome development’.
The country has severe restrictions on freedom of speech, and people have been arrested for criticising its king.
Syria currently blocks Facebook.
France and Germany both ban pro-Nazi content online.
Chinese newspaper The Global Times wrote approvingly of Twitter’s policy change, saying, ‘It is impossible to have boundless freedom.’
YouTube has been banned at various points in Brazil,China, Syria, Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.
Google has been using similar tactics for several years when a law in a country where its service operates requires a search result to be removed.
Like Google, Twitter also plans to the share the removal requests it receives from governments, companies and individuals at the chillingeffects.org website.
The similarity to Google’s policy is not coincidental.
Twitter’s general counsel is Alexander Macgillivray, who helped Google draw up its censorship policies while he was working at that company.
Twitter announced its change of direction openly last week.
As with Google, the company claims that blocking Tweets will allow more freedom of expression.
‘As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,’ the social site said.
‘Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country – while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.