The first country to censor tweets might be…Brazil?

twitter cage

The Brazilian government has requested an injunction against Twitter that would block Twitter users from alerting drivers about sobriety checkpoints, road blocks, and speed traps. The Brazilian government views tweets about police and traffic enforcement operations as undermining efforts to improve road safety and reduce traffic accidents—and the tweets also help out car thieves and folks who are transporting illegal goods by enabling them to avoid checkpoints. If a judge grants the injunction, anyone violating it could be hit with fines of 500,000 reals a day (about US $290,000).

Twitter raised eyebrows a few weeks ago by implementing a mechanism that would enable tweets to be blocked on a country-by-country basis: tweets could be available in some locales, but blocked in others. Surprisingly, Brazil seems to be the first country moving forward with plans to block tweets. According to Twitter, it will not remove tweets unless it receives a valid request from government officials or another party that believes the tweet is illegal; Twitter will replace the item with a censorship notice.

A decision on the injunction is expected sometime next week.

Brazil’s rapid action suggests that Twitter’s new capability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis may prove surprisingly popular with governments around the world. If so, it would be an ironic twist for a service that has played such a high-profile role in democracy movements around the world, particularly the “Arab spring” that led to revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.