With Twitter’s 140 character limit there’s little focus to the discussion so far about the new filtering Twitter just announced. I offer my comments to add some substance to the discussion.
First, we don’t know very much about what Twitter is doing, and it’s not clear that we ever will.
Second, the examples Twitter cites — laws in France and Germany that prohibit pro-Nazi speech — are reasonable. But this same rationale can be used to prevent leaks of information governments and companies don’t want leaked.
If Twitter-like tech is the new world stage, and I think it is, “they” want to control who has what access to it. By “they” I mean the unspecified governments and companies that can tell Twitter to make something inaccessible somewhere.
I am not passing judgment on Twitter. I will gladly concede Twitter has no choice. The Internet is not a law-free zone.
Third, what we’re deciding, by our actions, is whether the Internet will be like TV: a medium where, as individuals, we can comment on what’s being broadcast (that would be the innovation, the interactivity) but without the ability to organize ourselves outside of the control of huge corporations and governments.
Yes, the governments can shut down anything they want.
But, as I’ve pleaded elsewhere, if we force them to shut down the Internet to control the flow of information, everyone will know. If there is an ability to shut off communities selectively, that would be hard to detect.
Clarity on whether the Internet is up or down is something we should value and protect.
It’s possible today to be on a decentralized network and still participate in Twitter. If large numbers of us do it, Twitter won’t be able to quietly turn this feature off, or limit it, without lots of real users feeling it.
Fourth, we should have tutorial sessions at every Internet policy conference that show people how easy it is to operate your own infrastructure. It’s really there now, ready to teach users how to do it.
But you have to make a commitment to standing up for the Internet. It will never be as easy as Twitter. However, if Twitter shuts you off, it won’t affect your presence. That’s worth a little more complexity. (And the complexity is all in setup, not in posting. Once set up, it’s faster than in Twitter itself.)
If you work or study at a university in computer science or journalism, learn how to run a server, and then teach others how to do it. If you want to make a real contribution to the Internet, that’s how to do it. Signing petitions or forcing minor movement in Washington really isn’t that effective.
Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet.
Dave Winer is a software developer and editor of the Scripting News weblog. He pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. He is a former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, resident Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Visiting Scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker and graduate of Bronx High School of Science, he received a Bachelor’s in Mathematics from Tulane University, and a Master’s in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin. He currently lives in New York City.