Saturday, January 28, 2012

Twitter's tough balancing act

Twitter users everywhere are reacting to the news, and I've read several articles taking stance on the latest decision by Twitter.  They ranged from good to really bad, and you can find plenty of examples a last couple of days.  After sleeping on Twitter censorship announcement, I wanted to share a few more perspectives on the news.

Will Twitter regrow its wings to fly back to users?
First, Twitter has damaged user's trust with this announcement.  Regardless of the outcome, there could have been more discreet way to handle illegal tweets or promoting illegal content by sharing URL.  Twitter Terms of Service already specifies how Twitter can cooperate with local law enforcement to provide necessary information for criminal investigation.  Twitter could have chosen to simply start implementing its existing Terms of Service without formal announcement to the world that its censorship will start soon.

From Twitter's perspective, the question of whether to censor tweet or not would probably been on the executive team's agenda for quite some time.  As Twitter expands to more countries to become a global 140-character microblogging network, it had to make a choice whether to comply with local laws or stay in legal quandary where it's at odd with local government.  For now, it ended up choosing the former.  Saudi's recent $300M investment in Twitter probably did not help Twitter choose the latter option, which was where Twitter has been up to 2011 in most of Arab countries and China.

Here is Twitter's dilemma.  Should Twitter remain as a platform where anyone can say anything and take the consequence of not being available to countries like China (fast growing lucrative market for Twitter), or become a local law government friendly media where selective censorship is applied and get a step closer to getting the approval to operate within those oppressive regimes?

It's not an easy question to answer.  Twitter has already seen strong rival like Weibo growing fast in China, and feeling the pressure to enter the market to increase its reach.  On the other hand, it understands the importance of honoring tacit agreement with its users about protecting free flow of information.  Becoming the social network of choice for Egyptian Uprising and other Arabic activists certainly boosted Twitter's brand last year.

Instead of choosing to start implementing Terms of Service, they made an announcement on their blog about coming 'tweet withholding'.  Even if it's a good thing to have transparency on which tweets are blocked and allow access to Twitter from those restrictive countries, Twitter has damaged the trust from users who are both source and consumer.  We should not forget the fact that Twitter got to its place because of users.  Twitter was able to become platform social media because many saw the need to access easy microblogging platform.

I don't envy what Twitter is going through now.  It's a tough balancing the user's need and legal requirements.  But the way Twitter handled it leaves much to be desired.

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