Twitter has acquired 500 million users in less than six years
Twitter has acquired 500 million users in less than six years

Twitter has announced that it can withhold tweets from users in entire nations, in an attempt to satisfy every country's interpretation of freedom of speech.

In a blog post on 26 January Twitter said that, while it wants to be active in as many countries as possible, it has had to restrict content for historical or cultural reasons; previously, this meant removing tweets globally, but now tweets can be removed from specific countries.

"As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.

"Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content," Twitter said.

The Anonymous collective has issued its opinions, saying on its Twitter press account: "Yes the Twitter censoring post IS in fact real...and we are in fact mad as hell. Think of Arab Spring w/o [without] Twitter."

Anonymous added: "Free Speech...let it be hate, political, childish, shouldn't matter. Why let some one [sic] dictate what you will say or hear?"

The social network explained that, until now, it had to remove tweets globally if they breached a country's limits, but now the site can withhold content from certain countries.

"Starting today [26 January], 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 transparency to users when content is withheld, and why."

The news contradicts Twitter's previous statement made in 2011 which said: "The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact...almost every country in the world agrees that freedom of expression is a human right.

On the surface it appears that Twitter is going against its morals and succumbing to political pressure, but the site is an enormous, multinational company which wants to remain on the right side of the law in every region that it operates.

Twitter added: "Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits," and claims that it has not yet used this censorship of tweets, but if and when it does the site has promised to let users know and the offending tweet will be marked - that way, the countries who can still see the tweet will know that it has been blocked from others.

The site has said that it will work more closely with Chilling Effects, an organisation whose website will publish details if and when content is withdrawn.