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What Does Twitter Really Think About Users’ Right To Free Speech?

When Twitter and its users were sued last week for allegedly breaking a UK injunction granting privacy to a British footballer, the service chose not to comment publicly.

Its new UK/European head Tony Wang (pictured) had that opportunity on Wednesday, in his first panel discussion at the eG8 forum in Paris, the same day Twitter confirmed its purchase of UK-based TweetDeck. But the result is confusion – and a public spat between Twitter and Britain’s most heavyweight news organisation…

By directing us, by means of brief response last week, to a January blog post about freedom of speech, “The Tweets Must Flow”, California-based Twitter may have given the impression it would not reveal the identities of allegedly law-breaking users to London’s High Court.

But BBC News reported from eG8: “(Wang) declined to comment on the case directly but explained that Twitter would comply with local laws to turn over user details … Mr Wang made it clear that if the matter came to court, those people would be on their own.”

Both Twitter’s comms team and Twitter’s new boy are livid, releasing a torrent of replies to clarify their position..






Others have pointed out that the main idea behind Wang’s speech was, in fact, a defense of open expression on the internet, which would seem to contradict the BBC’s version of events.

To date, Twitter has not been called to actually deliver on its position in court, one way or the other. By declining to comment specifically last week, Twitter left itself somewhat open to interpretation…

Twitter may fear its new European head had stated its position incorrectly (or, at least, was reported as doing so). But Wang’s remarks in Paris don’t necessarily contradict the January statement Twitter had referred us to, which, like Wang, actually said: “While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.”

Twitter’s help section also states: “Non-public information about Twitter users is not released unless we have received a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process document.”

But there may be another contradiction here. That same position statement says: “There are Tweets that we do remove, such as illegal Tweets.” So the British footballer who is suing it may be minded to ask why it published the thousands of tweets which named him, supposedly breaching the injunction he obtained, in the last few weeks.

The answer may lay in cross-border jurisdictional complication, more than simply the ease with which tweets can be filtered out. Says Twitter’s help section: “Twitter, Inc. is located in San Francisco, California and will only respond in compliance with U.S. law to valid legal process.”

The irony of it all – its January statement also declares Twitter will protect its users‘ supposed right to “contest having their private information revealed”. Ryan Giggs must be wondering what happened to his privacy.

“Platforms have a responsibility, not to defend that user but to protect that user’s right to defend him or herself,” Wang said in Paris.

2 Responses to “What Does Twitter Really Think About Users’ Right To Free Speech?”

  1. Just for the record Tony Wang has been at Twitter for a while handling deals (international & with mobile carriers). He is only new to this post because it is a brand new position. re ‘newest hire’