Both Facebook and Twitter — but particularly Twitter — have received praise in recent years as outlets for free speech. Governments trying to control the flow of information have found it difficult to block people from voicing their concerns or setting up meetings through the sites.
At the same time, both Facebook and Twitter have corporate aspirations that hinge on their ability to serve as ad platforms for other companies. This leaves them with tough public relations and business decisions around how they should handle situations as politically charged as the WikiLeaks developments.
Some internet experts say the situation highlights the complexities of free speech issues on the Internet, as grassroots Web companies evolve and take central control over what their users can make public. Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet and teaches at New York University, said that although the Web is the new public sphere, it is actually “a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech.”
Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Any Internet user who cares about free speech or has a controversial or unpopular message should be concerned about the fact that intermediaries might not let them express it.”
She added, “Your free speech rights are only as strong as the weakest intermediary.”
See also The Future of the Internet’s Wikileaks FAQ.