Twitter says that it now has the ability to censor tweets for specific countries, which allows it to block out content that violates local laws without restricting it to rest of the world. The company says that it will be entering countries that have "different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression" as it expands, and cites France and Germany's ban on pro-Nazi content as an example of the need for such a feature.

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Twitter already censors content that violates certain laws — most of them are DMCA takedowns — but until now it had to censor those tweets globally. The company says it hasn't used the new ability yet, but that it will let users know when it does, and clearly mark when certain content has been withheld. It's also expanded its partnership with Chilling Effects, a web censorship watchdog archive, to make censorship actions more transparent.

Twitter says this new tool is intended for "reactive" use, and it's not clear how the company will handle fringe cases where laws may be overly prohibitive, or in circumstances where new laws complicate freedom of expression. Despite the shift in policy, the company stresses that "the tweets must continue to flow," and that it still intends to "defend and respect each user's voice." Of course, local laws may not always do the same, so we'll have to wait and see which laws Twitter thinks are worth upholding.

Update: Twitter just updated its post with a little more detail -- it says that it has no plans to pre-filter content, and that it will only withhold specific content when prompted by what it believes is a "valid and applicable legal request." The company says it will "evaluate each request before taking action," and that any content it removes will be clearly identified for users in the country where it's withheld. It's still not clear what Twitter considers to be "valid and applicable," but we're sure to find out as the new tool is utilized.