Twitter won't be able to ignore China, co-founder says

Twitter is blocked in China now but may eventually have to craft a strategy for the country, he said

Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone thinks his company eventually will have to deal with China despite disagreements over censorship, but it has no plans to do so immediately.

The Chinese government blocks Twitter, along with other foreign social-networking sites such as Facebook, and recent reports indicate Google's Gmail is being restricted as well. Through a control system sometimes called the Great Firewall of China, the government is now blocking searches for the word "Jasmine," indicating it is worried about a so-called "Jasmine Revolution" similar to recent upheavals in the Middle East.

"Our philosophy is that open exchange of information can have a positive global impact, and that's not China's philosophy," Stone said during a keynote session at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Orlando on Thursday. However, Twitter continues to examine ways to reconcile its beliefs with operating in China.

"We plan on being around for decades, at the very least, so we're not going to be able to ignore it forever," Stone said. One thing Twitter is studying is the Global Network Initiative, which has laid out a set of guidelines for Internet companies to follow when faced with requests to censor information or reveal users' identities, he said.

While Twitter is locked out, homegrown microblogging sites are growing rapidly in China. Weibo, operated by Chinese Internet giant Sina, recently said it had surpassed 100 million users.

Stone dismissed the idea that Twitter caused the recent protest movements in the Middle East, which have toppled or threatened governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and other countries.

"I don't think anyone in their right mind would say that sending a tweet is the equivalent of activism, but it's another one of the tools that people can use to self-organize, to rally, and to do the important things that people do around the world every single day," Stone said.

Twitter, Facebook, and other online services have allowed movements to form without the highly visible leaders who started such movements 10 years ago, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Using the Internet, ordinary people have been able to take a stand in safer ways, find protests and get the word out to other countries and world leaders, he said. His own organization now relies on Twitter along with its own researchers to keep track of developments in real time.

"All this happened without the typical leadership that the government would have gone to attack," Roth said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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