Massive Surge in Twitter’s Compliance with Government Censorship and Surveillance Requests

A report from the global technology outlet Rest of World has found that over the last six months Twitter’s compliance with government requests for censorship and surveillance has spiked to unprecedented heights. The report found that from October 27, 2022 to April 26, 2023, Twitter received 971 requests from governments to either remove posts or identify anonymous accounts. Twitter complied in full with 808 (83.2%), partially complied with 154 (15.9%), and “did not report any specific response” to nine (0.9%) of these requests.

Under New Management

This increase in compliance coincides with a surge in court orders and government requests being sent to Twitter; in this six-month period, “Twitter has received more orders than in the previous twelve months combined.” The increase in requests might be explained by governments expecting the company to be more compliant under the ownership of Elon Musk, whose purchase of the company was finalized on October 27th. If this was an assumption these governments made, they would appear to have been correct. As the report from Rest of World notes:

Most alarmingly, Twitter’s self-reports do not show a single request in which the company refused to comply, as it had done several times before the Musk takeover. Twitter rejected three such requests in the six months before Musk’s takeover, and five in the six months prior to that.

More broadly, the figures show a steep increase in the portion of requests that Twitter complies with in full. In the year before Musk’s acquisition, the figure had hovered around 50%, in line with the compliance rate reported in the company’s final transparency report. After Musk’s takeover, the number jumps to 83% (808 requests out of a total of 971).

Words and Actions

Elon Musk has long expressed freedom of speech as acore value of his, citing it as a driving force behind his purchase of Twitter. Forbes points out that “[when] Musk bought Twitter, he made clear his intention was to improve free speech and limit political bias, arguing the platform had a left-leaning skew.”

An article in Gizmodo is a bit more expressive in its appraisal of the situation:

[Following] his acquisition of Twitter, Musk made “freedom of speech” a pivotal part of his re-branding of the platform. He referred to himself as a “free speech absolutist” and persuaded users to imagine that the app would soon become a kind of censorship-proof Thunderdome where anyone could say anything and no rules would get in the way.

Musk’s compliance with government requests for censorship and surveillance appears to contradict these views of his, but is not the only behavior which has called into question his commitment to freedom of speech. Since taking over Twitter, Musk has banned numerous journalists and other accounts for behavior which should have been in line with Twitter’s Terms of Service.

Organizations: Twitter 

People: Elon Musk 

Tags: Censorship Surveillance Technology Free Speech 

Type: News