- By Jamila TrindleJamila Trindle is a senior reporter who covers finance, economics and business where they intersect with national security and foreign policy. Her beat spans everything from the economic underpinnings of conflict to sanctions, corruption and terror finance. Before coming to Foreign Policy magazine, Jamila reported for the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau, covering financial regulation and economics. She has also worked as a foreign correspondent in China, Indonesia and Turkey as a freelancer for NPR, Marketplace, The Guardian and others. She moved back to the U.S. to cover the post-crisis economy for PBS in 2009.
As one of the planet’s most largest and important social networks, Twitter is constantly bombarded with requests to take down content. Everyone from the Russian government to the Indian cricket league to American music business files the complaints. And now that it’s about to go public (and presumably, grow way bigger), the pace and scale of those takedown requests is only going to increase.
The tech darling keeps ramping up the price range for its initial public offering ahead of trading set to being Thursday. The higher price raises expectations that the micro-blogging site, which has never turned a profit, will have to figure out how to make money from the users it has, attract more users, or both. The pressure to make money has raised concerns that the company will back off its strong stance on free speech once it is beholden to shareholders.
"Being publicly traded opens your organization up to a degree of scrutiny and critique that private organizations don’t usually see," said Aram Sinnreich, a media professor at Rutgers University.
The pressure to expand internationally could also lead to more conflicts between local laws and Twitter’s free speech ethos. The company acknowledged as much in its offering documents, saying it’s subject to "complex and evolving U.S. and foreign laws and regulations" which could result in "claims, changes to our business practices, monetary penalties, increased cost of operations or declines in user growth, user engagement or ad engagement, or otherwise harm our business." China, for one, continues to block Twitter, opting instead to support local services that are more amenable toBeijing’s censorship regime.
In January 2012, the company drew criticism for creating country-specific rules that allow governments to request content be removed within their borders, if it violates their laws. Adam Holland, with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says Russia has been the most zealous user of the new system. Holland works on the website Chilling Effects, which compiles notices from people requesting internet companies take down content that violates copyright laws.
The system of cease and desist notices was not originally for foreign governments, but individuals and companies trying to stop copyright infringement. It was created by a law intended to protect intellectual property rights by requiring an internet company to remove content if it receives a notice from someone claiming to own the copyright to the content. Though tech companies do at times push back, there are so many notices filed that Twitter and Google and YouTube often just take down the content, unless the person who posted it challenges the takedown notice. Advocates of internet openness argue that the process favors people filing the notices, unduly infringing on individuals right to use copyrighted material within certain limits or, worse yet, allowing people to have content taken down for political reasons.
In the past three years, 15, 000 or so takedown notices have been addressed to Twitter and posted to ChillingEffects.org. Among them: several from the Russian government. Moscow has repeatedly asked Twitter to take down content about suicide and drug use, which is illegal to post according to Russian law. In this notice, the ROSKOMNADZOR, a Russian government telecom and communications agency, tells Twitter to remove content about "suicide methods."
Public figures also show up from time to time, asking other people to stop pretending to be them on Twitter. In this notice, the public relations department of a Japanese political party asks Twitter to take down a photo of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that @MUTEKIAbeShinzo was using as a profile picture.
Another common theme is people trying to clawback potentially embarrassing photos or videos in order to get them out of the public domain, like this notice from a Minnesota woman asking Twitter to take down a photo that was "meant to be shared privately with my husband of 23 years only."
Most of the notices are from companies fervently trying to keep the internet from giving their content away for free. Beleaguered pornography makers write in to claim rightful ownership to their videos. The Recording Industry Association of America tells Twitter to take down links to free Jay-Z songs. And, of course, Indian and Australian cricket leagues have to send in multiple notices asking Twitter to remove links to hot cricket videos. Those requests are likely to keep coming, even if Twitter does manage to raise $2 billion this week.