Biz Stone Clarifies Twitter’s Stance On Censorship And China

This guest post comes to us from tech blogger Will M. You can follow Will at @BetterPath.

“They should have asked me write that,” Biz Stone says about a blog post on that set off a global controversy. Twitter’s new technology is “a huge win for free speech” Biz insists, and regrets that people are only hearing “Twitter is censoring now” in the uproar around the post.

Today Biz clarified Twitter’s stance on their new technology that allows geo-targeted removal of illegal tweets, tweets that are then replaced with a message about the in-country laws leading to their removal.

AllTwitter covered Twitter’s apparent reversal its position on censorship. It was interesting to hear that this is all just a big misunderstanding, directly from Twitter’s founder.

Biz Stone’s Clarification on Twitter’s New Policy

Twitter seeks to work within the laws of the countries in which they operate. Twitter’s terms of service state that the company does not allow “illegal content”. Biz says they have always removed illegal content as necessary. Clarifying what he meant, Biz said Twitter set up “ridiculous hoops” for governments to jump through if they want content removed from the service. However, if a country successfully follows Twitter’s policy they can request a takedown of illegal content. This was the case from day one and has not changed.

What is New with Illegal Content on Twitter?

Twitter now only removes “illegal content” from display in the country where it is illegal – not globally. In the past, offending tweets just disappeared forever and worldwide – Twitter would completely remove the tweet from the service.

Twitter will continue to remove tweets from display in the country where the content is illegal, however, those same tweets continue to show up when accessed from anywhere outside that country. Better yet, Twitter now posts a replacement tweet that says “this tweet was removed because of this ‘silly’ law in your country”, Biz says. So it is not like the tweet simply never existed – there is now a new placeholder that calls attention to the country’s request for censorship.

Biz is confident Twitter’s new technology is consistent with Twitter’s goals of “ free expression.” Google actually copied the move, Biz says.

What about Twitter and China?

Biz says that the idea Twitter will work with China on censorship is only a misunderstanding stemming from the controversy.

Biz cannot see Twitter doing business in China for a long time. China’s laws are “antithetical to our whole way of doing things”. Twitter’s new technology is not intended to be applied in ways that make the Chinese government willing to allow Twitter in the country. Instead, the technology is a way of furthering Twitter’s goal of enabling free speech – which he described as the “opposite” of China’s own goals. Biz also noted that people do use Twitter in China – despite its being banned in the country – through technical workarounds to China’s social media censorship, and that this kind of use will be allowed to continue.

Twitter Blog Error Explained:

Twitter’s blog staff wrote the post the wrong way, Biz explained. As a result, the posts was read out of context – and Biz says this is both understandable and should have been expected by Twitter’s blog staff.

Twitter’s blog staff wrote their post as if everyone who would read it 1) understood Twitter’s commitment to free speech 2) follow along with Twitter’s history of consistently pro-free speech policies and 3) regularly read the Twitter blog and would therefore understand this particular post in the larger context of how Twitter communicates about the issue of censorship.

Biz said he would have written the post completely differently, and appreciated the chance to clarify on stage at DOMAINfest.