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BLOG: A season of censorship

Zafar Anjum | March 12, 2012
When the new media moguls start their business, they make big talk. But once they reach the tipping point, they show their true colours.

When the Malaysian authorities handed over a journalist to the Saudi government a couple of weeks ago (12 February), a hue and cry was made about the Malaysian government's scant regard for human rights.

Hamza Kashgari, 23, had fled Saudi Arabia amid a furore over his tweets on the Prophet Mohammad. Once returned, he is likely to face a charge of apostasy, which normally carries the death penalty.

On 8 February, we reported that after pulling the plug on more than a million online porn sites, Indonesia's Communications Minister, Tifatul Sembiring, has now set his sights on Twitter. Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology says it will target and block anonymous and offensive accounts on the popular social networking site.

Just a little before that (27 January), Twitter itself had admitted that it would censor tweets if a government would ask it to. Accordingly, Twitter has refined its technology so it can censor messages on a country-by-country basis. However, the good guys that they are, Twitter will post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed.

Ironically, just a year ago, Twitter had published on its blog a commitment to let Twitter flow (Tweets still must flow): "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. Many countries also agree that freedom of expression carries with it responsibilities and has limits."

 This is the same Twitter that had reportedly played a critical role in enabling the Arab Spring in the Middle East last year. Now, it wants to kowtow to powers that be. Why? Clearly, to protect its business interests.

Google, which exited the China market a few years ago, citing its adherence to values of freedom of speech, recently agreed to remove offensive content from its site at the behest of the Indian government. Worse still, the company that had started with the slogan of 'Do No Evil' is fast becoming the Big Brother with a finger in every pie. Facebook and other Internet companies have followed suit in India.

Are you surprised by these changes in the policies of some of the same Internet giants that made a lot of noise about freedom of speech when they started their business?

I am not.

These are venture-capitalist backed corporations, not some mad freedom-fighter's crusade. In their case, business sense finally triumphs over values. And let me remind you, corporate censorship only starts like this. If Google, Facebook and Twitter are the new media oligopolies, we have seen the same with their print and TV counterparts before.


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