Twitter is going down the same road that Google traveled in China by agreeing to censor tweets in "countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression."
The social networking giant, which uncensored has played a remarkable role in upending regimes and fighting political oppression around the globe, will make users aware of when tweets have been censored, for what that's worth. The operating theory is that Twitter thinks it's better to be up and functioning in some capacity in countries that censor rather than banned altogether.
Presumably Twitter has studied some of the object lessons Google learned by following the same path in China, where the search giant agreed to do much the same thing for arguably the same reason -- censor search results to comply with the Communist Party's remarkably strict (but effective) censorship apparatus rather than disappear from the lucrative market altogether. After giving in to the Party's dictates, Google got worn down by a series of headaches, including government hacks of its system, and moved its servers to Hong Kong. Google's decision to back away from China wasn't solely based on the censorship issue -- the company faces indomitable competition from Chinese search behemoth Baidu.
Google stood to reap billions from the Chinese market. Twitter on the other hand doesn't yet have quite as much to gain financially. Why is Twitter really doing this then?
Twitter critics are in an uproar and Twitter apologists argue that the new policy is fair because it allows Twitter to cope with the maze of global censorship policies while still supporting free speech where it can. That does makes sense.
Rather than battle tough governments, Twitter is retreating in order to fight another day. Demosthenes, the great Athenian orator, was once accused of being a coward for running away from a mismatched battle in which Athens lost 3,000 men to the Macedonians. Demosthenes basic retort to the accusation was "he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day."
Unlike Google, Twitter doesn't seem to be a coward as much as a pragmatist looking to fight another day.