Using the Shed Light: Twitter vs. Russia

Defending and respecting the user’s voice is one of Twitter’s core values, according to their website. This commitment to freedom of expression and privacy may explain one side of why Twitter has gone to the lengths of launching a Tor website to address Russian censorship. 

On behalf of Twitter, security engineer Alec Muffet announced the TorProject onion site as possibly the most important tweet he’d ever composed. He even explained why he himself, rather than Twitter’s official handle, would be one of the first to “tweet it out”. Muffet thoughtfully expounded: “From past experience with the Facebook and BBC Onion sites, any sufficiently large announcement leads to a load-spike, and given that @TwitterSafety has 3.6 million followers it would not be wise in a time of global crisis.”

Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that works by sending your traffic through three random servers (relays) before sending it out onto the public internet. Your real location remains hidden, your traffic is encrypted and your history is automatically erased with every session. Otherwise known as the “onion network”, Tor is a critical part of the dark web and hosts around 30,000 of the network’s hidden sites.

While it’s not illegal, like most cyber-tools, the Tor network can be used for good or bad. In this case, it is meant to be used to bypass government censorship. The Tor Project lets users download a specially customized Firefox browser for anonymous browsing and access to the .onion domains. 

Russia may be determined to limit their citizens’ communication with the outside world but this is just one effort amongst others that supports Russian citizens freedom to communicate and disseminate information at their will.