Without mentioning Egypt by name, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and general counsel Alexander Macgillivray took a shot at its government for cutting off Internet access in the wake of political unrest and protests in a post on the Twitter Blog. They wrote:
Our goal is to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression is essential. Some Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don’t always agree with the things people choose to Tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content.
The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is both a practical and ethical belief. On a practical level, we simply cannot review all 100 million-plus Tweets created and subsequently delivered every day. From an ethical perspective, 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.
At Twitter, we have identified our own responsibilities and limits. There are Tweets that we do remove, such as illegal Tweets and spam. However, we make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so that they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule — we strive to not remove Tweets on the basis of their content. For more on what we allow and what we don’t, please see this help page.
Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. 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 that they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.
We continue to work toward further transparency when we remove Tweets for legal reasons. We submit all copyright removal notices to @chillingeffects and they are now Tweeting them from @ChillFirehose. We will continue to increase our transparency in this area and encourage you to let us know if you think we have not met our aspirations with regard to your freedom of expression.
Discussion on topics from geopolitical events to wardrobe malfunctions make Twitter both important and fun. Providing the tools that foster these discussions and following the policies that keep them alive is meaningful work for us. If you are interested in this topic, we encourage you to follow the accounts collected @twitter/freedom-of-expression or, better yet, come work with us.