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April 13, 2016
In 2012, a Brazilian state prosecutor served Twitter’s new office in Sao Paulo, Brazil with a lawsuit as Brazilians were using the social media website to reveal the location of police drink-driving checkpoints. Generally speaking, Twitter has very relaxed rules and restrictions on the content produced by its users, especially in comparison with other social media websites such as Facebook. However, in Brazil, out of ‘good faith’, Twitter handed over the identities of three accounts that were said to have committed the above crime. The prosecuting team, did not stop there as the lawsuit, a year on is still going strong as they are looking to make Twitter bar any such accounts in the future.
As Twitter seeks to translate global popularity into profits, this is just one example of the difficulties faced by the company seeking to expand. The fact that Twitter can be used anonymously, its laissez-faire attitude towards content monitoring and its constant support of freedom of speech has made it the chosen media for social advocates and freedom fighters. During the riots in Brazil, protestors and authorities used Twitter to monitor one another as well as rally support. As Twitter prepares to become a public company, it is faced with the problem that 75% of Twitter users are outside the United States yet they make up for only 25% of sales. As seen in Sao Paulo, this means opening offices overseas, employing locals whilst complying with the law of the land in which they enter even if they conflict with the company’s free-speech policies.
A booming social media loving country like Brazil, with more than 80 million internet users makes the South American country one of Twitter’s most active markets. Brazil is no different from its Spanish-speaking Latin American nations whereby the service is used by everyone from the President down. With the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Brazilian market for social media websites and other businesses has created an extremely attractive market.
However, the wide adoption of Twitter by Brazilians voicing their opinions on the 140-character website has not been met by the adoption of complete freedom of speech. According to transparency reports published by companies such as Twitter and Google, Brazil is only second to the United States in filing requests for user information or content removal. With the riots taking place throughout Brazil only a few months ago and continued civil unrest still occurring periodically as well as the recent reports of spying on Brazil by the United States; Brazil is facing a difficult period.
It is not just Brazil in South America that is struggling to open up its online services to promote free speech online. For example, in Mendoza, Argentina, Facebook was sued as it did not take down groups that had been created by students encouraging their classmates to miss school. According to the Judge, Alfredo Dantiacq Sanchez, it is in fact up to Facebook to police the content produced and to make sure such groups are made accessible.
The question of where society draws a line in relation to social media developments and freedom of speech looks to continue for many years as citizens, Governments and the social media networks fight it out to protect their conflicting interests. Whether it is the Venezuelan Government using spyware on their citizens or the Brazilian Government resorting to possibly passing controversial laws that could see the introduction of online censorship, the lack of an overall international decision in regulating the internet leaves too much room for corrupt governments and officials, to abuse their power and reduce the freedom of speech online. However, what can be said is that the citizens of certain countriesstanding up for their freedom of speech, whilst ensuring that they toe the line of what is acceptable to be placed online, Twitter and other social media networks will be faced with less problems as they seek global growth.