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You are here: Home Blogs Community Governments ought to leave Twitter, but not for something worse

Governments ought to leave Twitter, but not for something worse

by Greg Farough Contributions Published on Feb 09, 2023 06:03 PM
Organizations are leaving Twitter, but will they make the wrong choice and choose something that requires nonfree software? Now's the time to tell your government and other groups you are a part of to make the right move to a freedom-respecting platform.

The recent erratic and abusive behavior Twitter has displayed toward its users has resulted in a strong push toward federated social media like Mastodon and other services utilizing the ActivityPub specification as its backbone. We hope that governments, citizen's groups, and nonprofit organizations will be among those leaving. All groups seeking an easy solution for disseminating information need to be careful not to replace Twitter with something worse. Requiring constituents to run nonfree JavaScript to view important information or government statements is an affront to user freedom.

Network services like Twitter's microblogging services are neither "free" nor "nonfree." They pose separate ethical issues. However, software freedom does come into play whenever these services require the user to run software to interact with them, usually in the form of free or nonfree JavaScript. Up until recently, it was possible to view Twitter without using nonfree JavaScript. Before this change, users concerned about their freedom could opt for the Twitter interface that didn't use JavaScript at all. As Twitter's questionable behavior pushes people away from the service, a user's ability to view important information without sacrificing their freedom needs to be preserved.

Placing information that was once on Twitter behind a "custom portal" or "Web application" requiring nonfree JavaScript is a nightmare for both freedom and accessibility, in multiple senses of the latter word. Even the most streamlined JavaScript application will not be as friendly to screen readers as a plaintext equivalent. It will absolutely be more unfriendly to load for users on slower mobile or even dial-up connections, given the size of your average JavaScript library, even when minified.

Part of the move is a convenience issue, and one understandable coming from underfunded government departments, who, so accustomed to Twitter being the easiest method of sharing important news gratis, naturally want to move to something that will be just as painless and cheap for them to deploy. Yet before they do so, they'd do well to contemplate how that change impacts the freedom of their constituents. The last thing they should want to do is leave users in the harrowing situation where they must choose between their freedom and information crucial to their daily lives.

Since it's the information that's crucial, not its presentation, it's worth considering whether updates on the weather or tax information need to be locked behind a massive JavaScript application in the first place. As a rule of thumb: when in doubt, use plaintext!

Take action

  • Urge your national, state, or local government to leave Twitter for a federated social network that respects its users freedom. You can write your representative and let them know about the importance of avoiding nonfree JavaScript.

  • If you work for a local government or nonprofit organization about to move from Twitter to something else, we suggest a federated and free software-friendly Mastodon instance. You can also assist in freeing the JavaScript of the custom portal your organization is about to use.

  • For help on making your custom portal or any Web site compatible with a user's freedom, read our guidelines on freeing JavaScript or get in touch with the Free JS Task Force, our LibrePlanet wiki team and mailing list for developers and site operators looking for help with freeing the JavaScript on their sites.

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