Less than one month after Twitter announced they would begin censoring tweets where justified, they are finding it hard to escape further controversy. Twitter's initial announcement stated that where tweets contravened local laws, and government officials complained, they would review removing those tweets.
This was put to the test following an injunction filed in Brazil. Now Twitter are finding themselves embroiled in another scandal, as a digital rights group in France 'Internet Sans FrontiÃ¨res' are claiming that Twitter are involved in 'obvious censorship' as they have removed parody accounts of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that the group claims are operating within Twitter's rules on parody accounts.
To clarify, parody Twitter accounts are permitted (in the main) on the site, provided they are not attempting to actually impersonate the account in question, and that they use clear disclaimers such as 'fake' and 'not'. Sarkozy has only just registered his official account for the first time last week, and since then four parody accounts have been removed or blocked on Twitter: @_ nicolassarkozy; @fortefrance; @mafranceforte and @SarkozyCaSuffit. _nicolassarkozy (which contains 'fake' in the name) can still be accessed here, but has not been updated since February 15th. Suspiciously, this was the exact day that the real Nicolas Sarkozy started tweeting.
An official response from Twitter to the account @_ nicolassarkozy has also purpotedly been released, which includes:
"We have received a valid report that your account, @_NicolasSarkozy, is engaged in non-parody impersonation. Although Twitter firmly believes in the freedom of expression, impersonation that misleads, confuses, or deceives others is against the Twitter Rules (http://twitter.com/rules). Your account has been temporarily suspended due to violation of our impersonation policy."
As of now, Twitter have not released an official statement in connection to this story.
The impact on freedom of speech
Somewhat worryingly, this is not the first time Sarkozy has been involved in a social media scandal this month. His new Facebook profile, which uses the Timeline layout, is missing controversial events from his political history, giving a rather one-sided view. Facebook themselves were drawn in, and issued a statement claiming that they are in contact with public figures, giving them help but ultimately remaining neutral.
While we await the outcome of the recent Twitter scandal, it's worth thinking about the impact on freedom of speech as politics and social media move closer together. While this ultimately brings with it a lot of good: opening up a public dialogue and increasing access both to information and channels to challenge, it also brings risks.
It will inevitably become harder for social networks to remain free from censorship; as their reach and users grow, the pressure to regulate will increase. How the Sarkozy drama plays out will have a big impact on the future developments of social networks and censorship.