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Social-network update: Facebook up; Twitter slow?

Hackers did not take down Facebook today, as they had earlier claimed they would. Meanwhile, the pace of tweets appears to have slowed amid an ongoing Twitter boycott. And Twitter's lawyer responds.

Screenshot by CNET

Turns out it's pretty much business as usual today in social-network-land, despite earlier claims hackers would take down Facebook and despite a boycott of Twitter by users accusing the company of censorship.

Twitter did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on the impact of the boycott, but the pace of tweets seems to have slowed, from this user's perspective anyway. It being Saturday, however, the news feeds we follow tend to slow down naturally, so it's hard to tell for sure. We'll update this post if we get any feedback today from Twitter.

The Twitter boycott is in response to an announcement made by Twitter on Thursday about a change in its police for withholding tweets when they violate a country's local laws. Until now, when a tweet had to be taken down, Twitter would have to remove the content entirely from the site. Under the new plan, it can be taken down on a country-by-country basis. Under the new policy, Twitter will also report taken-down tweets to Chilling Effects, a Web site that maintains a database of cease-and-desist notices sent to Internet users and providers.

Twitter tried to assure users in a blog yesterday that the new plan is intended to promote freedom of expression, transparency, and accountability. But users took it a different way--accusing the company of local-level censorship.

Reporters Without Borders Director Olivier Basille called the policy a violation of international speech standards and the boycott movement took off. Users took to Twitter hashtags like #TwitterBlackout and #TwitterCensored to air concerns about Twitter, the self-proclaimed champion of free expression, cooperating with local governments. They also tweeted fears that this could be setting the stage for Twitter to enter countries like China, where the service is now blocked and where Internet companies have to work with authorities to filter information deemed illegal.

An image displayed on the Reporters Without Borders Web site. Screenshot by CNET

However, Alex Macgillivray, Twitter's general counsel, told The Wall Street Journal late Friday night that this is no "policy change" and that Twitter "philosophy is still the same" about protecting free speech on the Web. He added that this has "nothing to do with China" and further clarified that the company doesn't filter content before it is posted. Rather, it responds to requests after users have posted them.

And it should be noted that not all free-speech activists are upset about Twitter's policy. Take the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jillian York, who wrote: "This is censorship. There's no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law. Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content."

Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, adds, "In my opinion, with this policy, Twitter is fighting to protect free speech on Twitter as best it possibly can."

Still, the Twitter blackout has no doubt gained traction around the Web. A Google search this afternoon of "Twitter blackout" brought up more than 95 million results.

Meanwhile, the Twitter boycott (or perhaps distractions from the movement against the SOPA-like ACTA) may have interfered with earlier reported plans of Anonymous-related hackers to target Facebook today with a distributed denial-of-service attack.

Facebook did not immediately respond to CNET's inquiry about whether it was targeted today, but there have been no reports of the site going down. Facebook earlier clarified that it's always prepared for the threat of an Anonymous attack.

"Due to our size, we face the same threats as seen everywhere else on the Web, but we have developed partnerships, backend systems, and protocols to confront the full range of security challenges we face," a Facebook representative said Monday. We'll update if we get any feedback today from Facebook.