The recent debate over the ethics of releasing the American cables by Wikileaks has spawned a new debate about freedom of speech on the internet.
The internet has been a boon for dissidents and freedom fighters who wished to get across their message without resorting to underground presses. The uses of Facebook came to the world's attention when the site was accused of participating in a plot against the Iranian government during a trial of protestors -- many of whom had used Facebook as an organizing tool.
The question now, however, is how long and to what extent will these sites continue to offer tacit support while struggling against their corporate and profit-conscious mindsets.
Facebook currently has over 500 million users worldwide. Twitter has over 200 million users. These sites are closely being watched by investors to see how their revenue model grows. Being associated with unwanted conflicts hurts the market value as well as the brand value of these companies, which are now increasingly focussing on marketing and ad revenues.
Wikileaks, in contrast, is like journalists' tool for information and depends entirely on private contributions.
Mastercard and Visa withdrew their support for the site, citing possible violations of their policies. PayPal also withdrew its services, hampering WIkileaks' fundraising ability.
Many commentators believe that the two companies were feeling the pressure from the government, and had to act to preserve the goodwill of the government towards their debt-laden firms.
The two firms no doubt felt that pressure from both sides of the political aisle, as Attorney General Eric Holder promised to explore all legal options against WikiLeaks while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have branded him a terrorist, Andy Greenberg said in Forbes.
Amazon Web Services, which rented web space to Wikileaks, and EveryDNS, an internet-addressing service, also withdrew their support for the website, making it clear they would not be associated with a site that could be committing illegal activities.
Though the verdict on the legality of Wikileaks' action is still out, it is obvious that companies are protecting their commercial interests.
Which is why the reactions of Facebook and Twitter, the two most important online commodities, are being watched closely.
These two website were heralded as the promoters of freedom of speech. However, in recent times, Facebook has faced intense criticism over its privacy policies that is cashing in on users' information available on the site. Facebook has also begun to block messages containing illegal links such as torrents or copyright infringed material.
Neither of the two websites have made a statement about the content posted on their websites regarding the Wikileaks issue. But there have been complaints that Twitter was trying to block Wikileaks-related terms from its list of trending topics.
The website denied this report and stated that these topics fell off the trending list because not enough people were talking about them.
Meanwhile, hackers have made it clear that their support lies with Julian Assange by launching a cyber attack on all the sites and services that withdrew support to WikiLeaks. On the other hand, Facebook shut down a page on the website that belonged to the hackers, while it is still unclear where Twitter stands on the issue.
Various Twitter groups seemingly affiliated with the organization provide rough estimates of its influence: Anonops has nearly 10,000 followers; Operation Leakspin has more than 1,300 followers; Anonymous Operations has about 1,200 followers, the Washington Post said in a report.
Anonymous is one of the groups that tried to shut down websites for disabling or suspending services to Wikileaks. When contacted through Twitter, Anonymous members said in recent days they have been driven by fears of civil rights intrusions and totalitarian futures, the Post said.
Facebook and Twitter continue to play a strong role in freedom of speech in the internet age. Now, the world awaits reactions from the companies to see if they will let this continue or if they would let corporate interests take centre stage.