Twitter Announces New Withhold Messages from a Specific Country Feature

As some countries have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression, and, with Twitter's influence and presence continues to grow internationally, the microblogging company in an effort to make its service more agreeable to countries where certain messages might be considered offensive or even against the law, now providing usea with the ability […]

Twiiter withhold content from users in a specific countryAs some countries have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression, and, with Twitter's influence and presence continues to grow internationally, the microblogging company in an effort to make its service more agreeable to countries where certain messages might be considered offensive or even against the law, now providing usea with the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country.

Until now, the only way to take account of those countries' limits was to remove content globally. But no more, as in a blog post Twitter announced:

"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. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why."

Adding, the company said "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."

Adding further company said, "We haven't yet used this ability, but if and when we're required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we'll attempt to let the user know, and we'll clearly mark when the content has been withheld."

Twitter along with Chilling Effects created a new page, http://chillingeffects.org/twitter, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

Also, company announced that Twitter REST API will soon return new data attributes to accommodate specific circumstances in which Twitter is required to withhold certain content in particular countries.

"The new attributes, withheld_in_countries and withheld_scope, will denote which countries the Tweet or the account is being withheld in, as well as the the scope of the data being withheld: at the Tweet level or at the user account level. Furthermore, if we believe the API request itself comes from a country in which that Tweet or account has been withheld, then the Tweet text and/or the user data will be replaced with text indicating it has been withheld," Twitter stated.

There's more information in available in the Help pages, both on Policy and about Your Account Settings.

Twitter also announced that "right-to-left" languages are now available for volunteers to translate in the Twitter Translation Center, starting with Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu.

"The Twitter Translation Center takes a crowd-sourced approach to translating and localizing Twitter for people around the world. More than 425,000 volunteers contribute to the Translation Center, and to date have helped make Twitter available in 22 languages. With their help, these will be the next four," Twitter said.

Adding, company said, "As we prepare to add Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu to Twitter, we've developed new ways to ensure that Tweets and hashtags will work properly in right-to-left languages."

The company also made changes behind the scenes to give right-to-left language speakers a localized user experience.

Update: Twitter made amendments to its original announcement, anwering a few questions that they received from the users stating:

"In short, we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability -- and for our users. Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal."

Q: What will people see if content is withheld?
A: If people are located in a country where a Tweet or account has been withheld and they try to view it, they will see a alert box that says "Tweet withheld" or "@Username withheld" in place of the affected Tweet or account.

Twitter account withheld notification
Tweet withheld notification

Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four days -- filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.

As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.