Twitter’s executives proves once again that their users’ rights and needs trump all else, including the latter’s right to free speech, by releasing their first-ever Transparency Report just two days before Independence Day.
Sure, Facebook gets all the media love nowadays, what with its much-anticipated IPO and explosive growth, but it hasn’t exactly been known for being user-friendly or even pro-user, for that matter. In what seems to be a weekly occurrence, Facebook frequently rolls out changes to its layout, algorithm, advertising formats, and even its privacy policies, much to the anguish and anger of a big percentage of its 900+ million users.
Twitter, in the meantime, has made very few changes to its interface. Its introduction of an advertising platform in the form of Promoted Tweets just over a year ago was one of the biggest changes to come out of the Little Social Network That Could.
So it comes as little surprise that its Transparency Report didn’t get nearly as much media buzz as, say, the news that Katie Holmes had filed for divorce from Tom Cruise, but it’s arguably a lot more significant than the demise of yet another celebrity marriage and is certainly an interesting milestone in the twisted saga otherwise known as the United States vs. Your Privacy and First Amendment Rights.
In the report, Twitter reveals data on the number and sources of government requests for user information and content as well as government requests to withhold content. It also includes information on DMCA takedown notices filed with the company by copyright holders. In light of Twitter’s well-documented and significant influence as a critical communication and information-disseminating tool during the Arab Spring, it should come as no surprise that, according to the report, the company “received more government requests in the first half of 2012 [...] than in the entirety of 2011.”
When entire governments can be dismantled as a result of some disenfranchised and oppressed students and activists blowing up Twitter with their minute-by-minute, on-the-ground reports of revolution, I guess we can’t be too surprised to find that states are suddenly deeply interested in the content generated by the world’s second largest social media site in by user numbers. What is even more surprising — although maybe we should know better? — is that the overwhelming number of requests for user information (about 679 out of a total of 849 global requests) come from Uncle Sam.
Considering that only about 30% of tweets are produced in the United States — Brazil clocks in at 2nd on the list, claiming 22% of all tweets — that’s an intriguing insight on democracy in action in our country and just how much we still have to figure out when it comes to privacy on the Internet and our rights as creators of content as well as informed citizens of a free society versus the right of a government — even a democratic one — to pry into our conversations, even our public ones.