This week, the Brazilian government filed a lawsuit against Twitter, claiming that the micro-blogging site has been helping motorists in Brazil to avoid police speed-traps and roadblocks aimed at tackling drinking and driving. It’s a strange story.
The government has demanded damages of R$500,000 (about $300,000) per day be paid by Twitter if they do not immediately comply with the demand.
Twitter recently made their own announcement about introducing the ability to censor tweets by country, so in theory a complaint such as this could easily be dealt with. The offending Twitter user could carry on sending out messages that can be read in any country – except Brazil. This would fix the problem of accounts that warn of police roadblocks in Brazil.
But is this really what the Twitter censorship system was designed for and isn’t the Brazilian government trying to close the stable door after the horse has already bolted?
First, to blame Twitter as a company for the messages an individual user has been sending is a bit like issuing a lawsuit against the post office because you don’t like the tax bill or junk mail they delivered.
Second, the controversial Twitter censorship system has been designed to facilitate the removal of offensive messages that might be illegal in one territory, but not in others. For example, Nazi groups tweeting messages from Germany may find that their hate-filled (and illegal) rants can only be read outside of Germany. Controlling hate crimes is very different to controlling the traffic cops.
Third, people will always use what tools they have available to avoid police roadblocks – CB radio, in-car detectors, listening to police radio frequencies on scanners… Twitter is not even all that efficient a mechanism anyway as a driver cannot be cruising the streets and reading his tweets at the same time.
The real problem is that speeding and drink-driving is considered fairly normal in Brazil. A car moving at the speed limit will soon find motorists tailgating, flashing their lights, honking their horn, and forcing the car in front to speed just to feel safe. And likewise, go to any bar on a Saturday night and look at how many tables feature car keys next to mugs of beer.
Clamping down on Twitter doesn’t fix any of these issues – though it gives the impression that the government is doing ‘something’ to help the police. A long-term education program to improve the behavior of Brazilian motorists is needed – making it uncool to let your friends drink and drive or speed in urban areas.
Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura licensed under Creative Commons