Around the world a specter is haunting governments — the specter of Twitter.
While many citizens of the world tweet without a care, the Twittersphere is not as unrestricted as it may appear.
In January 2012, Twitter announced that the global network would begin to restrict tweets in specific countries. Previously Twitter removed tweets that broke the network's general rules, or if a government issued a formal request. But this new policy, critics say, enables governments to more easily block access to tweets and Twitter accounts deemed unsavory. (Interestingly, the U.S., Brazil, and Japan rank among the highest in recent information requests.)
Now, as Twitter goes public, the company will be under greater scrutiny in how it balances a commitment to freedom of expression — and local laws that have the opposite effect.
According to Freedom House's 2013 Freedom on the Net report, internet freedom worldwide is in decline. The report found a general rise in broad online surveillance, laws that control web content, and the arrest of social media users.
"The trend is such that before it was mainly activists who were getting arrested, where as now we are seeing that it is more and more regular users that are posting their opinions, not realizing that what they say can get them in trouble," Sanja Tatic Kelly of Freedom House told BuzzFeed.
The report found that while fewer countries were outright banning Twitter, governments were using other creative ways to restrict access and content, such as blocking Twitter handles by known activists or using statements made on Twitter against citizens in court. In many countries, governments own telecommunications infrastructure or have close ties to their owners, enabling them to more easily block and censor internet access. These factors are an important reminder of the regulations and international relations also shaping — and being shaped by — the future of Twitter.