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Tweeting #Love and #Outrage

February 13, 2012

While social media sites like Twitter and Facebook will surely be busy with expressions of love and romantic relationships tomorrow (Valentine's Day), a couple of weeks ago tweeters were outraged when Twitter announced that upon request it would start blocking messages in countries where they (the messages) were considered illegal.

Several tweeters even suggested boycotting the site. According to The New York Times, Bianca Jagger wrote (somewhat existentially), “How are we going to boycott Twitter?” (The New York Times, January 28, 2012).

Despite the protests, less than a week later, Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, was quoted at a D:Dive Into Media conference as saying that “2012 is going to be the Twitter Election” meaning that Twitter has become a crucial way of reaching voters in real time, and that the political parties had figured this out.

It's easy to forget that not every country has the same kinds of protections for freedom of speech and of the press as do countries like the United States. While Twitter and Facebook played crucial roles as communications platforms during the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street Fall, in order for these social sites to expand their businesses into other countries, they have to obey the laws of those lands. They are businesses after all.

(Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg promoted the societal benefit of Facebook in his letter to potential investors in its upcoming IPO by stating, “we don't build services to make money, we make money to build better services.”)

When companies expand globally, they often run into conflicts in laws and cultures among countries. What may be perfectly acceptable and legal in one country might be unacceptable or illegal in another. The marketplace is littered with companies who weren't able to navigate this global terrain.

The practice of corporate social responsibility, with its emphasis on transparency and accountability, can provide a useful roadmap for companies to follow. In the era of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as global communications channels, companies must be open and transparent about their policies and practices in order to maintain their licenses to operate.

A spokesperson for Twitter said that it believes that its new system will promote greater transparency, not less. It won't filter content before it's posted, but it will remove material that has been identified as potentially illegal in the country from which it was posted. But that didn't keep tweeters from being outraged.

What do you think? Can social media sites retain their reputations as bastions of free speech while still being global businesses? Is there something about the practice of corporate social responsibility that can help guide them?

Let me know your comments by clicking here.


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