With social networking becoming a routine in the common man’s life, freedom of speech is being challenged like never before. During such times the depth in Transparency Reports by social networking giants is becoming a crucial factor. Twitter, the 140 character network has been publishing such reports since 2012 and it has now released the Transparency Report for H2 2013 i.e. from Jul 1- Dec 31 2013.
A cursory glance at the global findings of the report will help you understand why freedom of speech is becoming so debatable. In H2 2013 – Twitter received 365 removal requests which include government requests (and other complaints of illegal content from authorized reporters) in comparison to just 65 in the first half of 2013.
Information requests which include worldwide government requests Twitter receives for account information, typically in connection with criminal investigations stands at 1410, increasing from 1,157 in H1 2013.
Twitter also highlights that in H2 2013 it received inquiries from 10 new countries, bringing the grand total to 46 countries since the inception of its Transparency Report.
According to the latest report, US continues to make the most requests, making up 59% of all requests received. Of the remaining 41% of requests, Japan remains the second largest requester with a total of 15% of overall requests. During the same period Twitter also shared that it has received more than five times as many content removal requests than in the prior reporting period. The majority of these requests originated from France, followed by Russia, Brazil, and the United Kingdom.
India Transparency Report
With no surprises, information requests from Indian government bodies have increased. During H2 2013 Twitter received 19 account information requests for which Twitter produced around 32% of information. The below screen grab gives you a snapshot on how the Twitter requests from the country have increased in the last two years:
The same has been the case for removal requests too; around 8 removal requests were brought forward and accounts specified were 54. However, Twitter withheld 13 tweets with no accounts being withheld.
Sharing more about withheld content, Twitter added that it continued to see an increase in the number of requests received and number of with holdings, including requests from six new countries (none of which resulted in any removals): China, Ireland, Italy, Kuwait, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates.
Twitter did, however, withhold content in five repeat countries: Brazil, France, India, Japan, and Russia. The maximum Twitter received were three hundred requests from a national advocacy association regarding illegal discriminatory content from France. From India it received a court order directing Twitter to remove defamatory content about a manufacturer in India. No further information was divulged on the matter.
Challenges of Twitter’s Transparency Report
While Twitter says that the data in these reports are as accurate as possible, but may not be 100% comprehensive. Nonetheless, the Transparency Report has matured and for the first time the country-by-country specific details by Twitter has added a lot of value and transparency.
But the transparency is costing Twitter as it is finding very difficult to be transparent the way it would want to be. With US government’s surveillance program coming out in the open, other governments don’t want to be left behind and that is making life tough for companies like Twitter.
The company adds that it is weighing up to take its fight for more disclosure to the courts. “We are considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights,” Jeremy Kessel, Manager, Global Legal Policy, writes in a blog post introducing the new Transparency Report.
TC writes that Twitter would not be the first to get legal: Yahoo is among those who have been outspoken on this point. While there have definitely been some moves made by the U.S. Department of Justice to allow for more disclosure on government requests, it doesn’t go far enough to be relevant to companies like Twitter.
With 75% of Twitter accounts registered outside the U.S. and 35+ languages currently supported, the company aims to translate the entire transparency site this year. It wishes to see transparency reports become commonplace for all companies that handle user data and receive government requests.
But, will this new move force companies like Facebook to be more open and transparent on such reports? And above all, will this move also help the company to spike its user base, which is seeing a slow growth as stated in its latest earnings call.