New research shows Twitter drastically under-reports its censorship

The actual number of censored tweets? More like a quarter million, researchers found.

 

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Tech

Published Oct 19, 2015   Updated May 27, 2021, 7:08 pm CDT

Update: See below.

Featured Video Hide

Twitter “radically under-reports” censorship by Turkey, one of the world’s most prolific Internet censors, according to new research from the Association of Computing Machinery.

Advertisement Hide

Rocked by domestic and international unrest as well as an increasingly authoritarian government, Turkey’s government has in recent years frequently turned to mass censorship as an answer to unsolved political problems.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become regular targets of Turkish censorship, especially when the country’s citizens criticize government leaders and institutions.

Twitter, like its Silicon Valley competitors, complies with government censorship demands but says that it attempts transparency by reporting every blocked tweet that it legally can. This new research casts doubt on the trustworthiness of any of these reports.

“Our work establishes that Twitter radically under-reports censored tweets in Turkey, raising the possibility that similar trends hold for censored tweets from other countries as well,” the researchers wrote. 

Twitter’s reports understate the censorship by two orders of magnitude. The true number of censored tweets reaches over 250,000 ACM found.  

Advertisement Hide

Turkey’s censorship has made software like the Tor anonymity network increasingly popular in the country, especially during times of unrest, when censorship spikes.

The new statistics provoked pointed criticism of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO. 

Update 3:00 pm CT, Oct. 19. A Twitter spokesperson strongly disputes the study, saying “The researchers’ conclusions are false, and their methods are based on skewed data and wild speculation.”

Advertisement Hide

Illustration by Tiffany Pai

Share this article
*First Published: Oct 19, 2015, 10:39 am CDT