Twitter may censor LGBT tweets across the Middle East

This Thursday Twitter announced  that the company will now start to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis, allowing the popular microblogging site to comply with local governments’ request to remove, block certain content or users. Gay Middle East fears this will mean censorship of LGBT Tweets in the Middle East and North Africa. Previously, Twitter only blocked tweets and accounts globally.

Gay Middle East will join the protest on the 28.1.12 and Not Tweet for 24 hours.  We Urge You To Do The Same.

“Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. 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,” Twitter wrote in a blog post . “We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”

Once twitter starts to censor, it will alert its users  by replacing the text of the post with a grayed-out tweet treading , “This Tweet from @username has been withheld in: Country. Learn more.”

“We are very concerned about this new development,” said Dan Littauer, Executive Editor for Gay Middle East, “twitter has an enormous impact in spreading news and media, especially regarding Human Rights, including LGBT rights across the world and in particular the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).”

“Twitter has been essential, for example, in helping the Arab Spring protests and also spread of information regarding LGBT issues in MENA.  Users within the state where censorship is about to occur will not be able to co-ordinate protests or actions.”

“Furthermore,” reiterated Littauer, “many users in this region rely on tweets to inform them about already blocked sites, such as ours, for example in Saudi Arabia.  This allows the twitter users to use technology to bypass the censorship.  This means that if LGBT related tweets and users will be censored across some or all of the MENA countries it will make it so much harder to communicate and even know about censorship itself in that country.  This is a very dangerous precedent.”

Twitter did not explain clearly how this decision was arrived at and why, but members of Gay Middle East wonder if this is partly related to the SOPA and PIPA initiatives as well as the recent acquisition of a stake in Twitter’s company by the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Shamil, Gay Middle East Editor of Saudi Arabia and the UAE remarked “just like any purchase by a person of power within the Kingdom, investor pressure could be brought to bear on a myriad of issues at anytime, where restrictions could be made to apply in the Kingdom itself, which already has censorship. This could result in some influence on blocking Gay, lesbian, LGBT tweets, but only in the Kingdom itself. “  It remains to be seen if this will happen and in which countries across MENA.

Littauer notes blocking of the use of the word “gay”  and associated LGBT terms via BING – the Microsoft flagship search engine, a Company in which the Saudi family has an investment-  has been a practice by the Kingdom and other Arab countries. “There was a possibility that such restrictions could arise due to the increased presence of such a political figure, as it may have been the case with Microsoft,” speculated Littauer.

“Tomorrow” (28.1.11) stated Littauer, “we will join the global protest and not tweet for a 24hours. ”  “We will announce this very soon using our twitter account by a tweet using the hashtags #j28 #TwitterBlackout.”

The Next Web  has written how to get around this new censorship.

From Gay Middle East
Source – Gay Day Magazine