Thinking Aloud: Why Twitter Should Be Wikipedia

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[By Sudarshana Banerjee]

This one comes a little bit out of the blue. As you may have heard, microblogging site Twitter is ‘giving itself’ censorship capacities. “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,” says a post on the Twitter blog.

While Twitter may choose to censor tweets on certain subjects in certain countries, the rest of Twitterverse can continue to enjoy their freedom of thought. Pro-Nazi content for example, will be blocked in France or Germany, but not the rest of the world.

The good thing about this is, if some countries can block some content, they will (hopefully choose not to) block Twitter as a service on the whole. So for example, if it were Egypt a year ago all over again, one possible scenario could be the government asking Twitter, and Twitter agreeing to, blocking all political tweets; in return the government does not block Twitter as a service en masse. If Egyptians in a state of unrest then want to tweet about say a favorite aunt, they can have all the 140-characters they want at their disposal.

Why This Will Not Work
Lets go back to Egypt a year ago. Did blocking Twitter work back then? Why should selectively blocking tweets work now?

Dissidence existed way before social media did, and will continue to exist even if social media closes its doors, and SOPA wants to block contents of all sorts.

There is another reason why this will not work, you see, technology tools can enable us to bypass, ironically, technology. Its really that simple. Check this piece out by Rosa Golijan on Technolog – MSNBC.com on how to circumvent Twitter’s censorship. Easily. Even before SOPA could be voted upon, people were figuring out ways to bypass it. Check this out, for example. There is already a Firefox extension that says it can bypass SOPA tracking, if SOPA ever came to being.

Why This Should Not Be Working In The First Place

Where do we draw the line? Some countries may vehemently object to the Victoria’s Secret website; so should that site be blocked? What about web sites that propagate extremist views?

Is the Internet, or social media, for that matter, only for the somewhat literate and the moderate or politically agnostic? And the others, the differently opinionated, not allowed their freedom of speech?

If Twitter says it can and might censor tweets, tomorrow a publisher may chose not to publish a potentially controversial book. What if movie halls selectively screen films? Painters paint, or do not? The right to chose, and the right to make mistakes, is after all a fundamental human right and freedom. Publishers don’t always publish, and movie halls do screen movies selectively…

Think about how you raise a teenager. You can not police everything she does, you educate her to the best of your ability, impart the best of your wisdom to the best of your ability, and hope she makes the right decision. And the government is hardly a parent figure!

The playing field has been leveled. And we are all playing.

Thanks to the Internet, no country, or company, for that matter, can survive in semi-detached isolation anymore. We have to be ethical, if only because it is becoming a business imperative. Be ethical or be voted out! Be ethical or we will switch to the competition!

Our users (and the competition), are willing to confess our sins. Look around the Web!

One of the largest suppliers of Apple parts in China, had to improve working conditions, after stories of worker abuse were leaked on the Internet. Dell had to vamp up its customer service, because a disgruntled buyer wrote a blog, and soon thousands of Dell users started bashing the company online. And these are just two examples.

Wikipedia can be a metaphor for the way the online world works. It is free; both in the sense of free speech and free lunch. Sure there are some regulations, but mostly it is self-regulated (‘Invisible hand’, did you say? Smith is having the last laugh somewhere). It has its ugly and its bad, but most of it is pretty good and intended to be for the collective good. Luckily for us, for every Great Firewall, there are a few million hackers. Not to mention cats playing pianos..

[Image courtesy: Speak To Tweet]

Update: 11-12-13