Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, right, speaks at News Corp.'s D: Dive Into Media conference on Monday.

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Dick Costolo weighs in on Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act

Twitter did not participate in blackouts because it would have been counterproductive

CEO addressed new censorship policy that Twitter announced last week

Laguna Niguel, California CNN —  

Twitter did not participate in the recent online “blackouts,” in which Wikipedia and others made their websites inaccessible to U.S. visitors for a day, because it would have been counterproductive, the company’s CEO said Monday night.

“You don’t pull the batteries out of the microphone,” Dick Costolo told audience members during an onstage interview at News Corp.’s D: Dive Into Media conference here.

Instead, Twitter proved to be a key platform for people exchanging information about the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and similar proposed legislation, Costolo said. About 3.9 million messages about SOPA and its sister bill, PIPA, were posted to Twitter on January 18, the day of the blackout, he said.

After a huge outcry online, both bills have since been shelved.

Addressing the new censorship policy that Twitter announced last week to much outrage and confusion, Costolo maintained that his company has taken the right approach. He repeatedly said that scholars would one day determine that Twitter had made the right move.

“I think it’s a super-complex issue,” Costolo said. “It takes a while for the scholars and the people who have studied these issues to chime in.”

Twitter’s new rule, which many felt was poorly explained when it was introduced, would allow the company to remove a tweet according to the law in one country while having it remain visible for people in other countries. Previously, the tweet would disappear for everyone. This isn’t just for countries with strict censorship rules and human-rights issues. It applies to tweets in the U.S. that are removed as a result of copyright takedown notices, Costolo noted.

“It is simply not the case that you can operate in these countries and choose which laws you want to abide by,” Costolo said. “There’s been no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitter.”

The first topic of the interview involved Twitter’s battle with Google regarding the latter seeming to favor its own social network in search results over its rivals’. Google has been under some pressure in Washington recently over charges of anti-competitive practices.

Once a Google engineer after the search giant acquired his company FeedBurner, Costolo suggested that Google may have lost its moral compass.

“They’ve always been a mission-driven company,” he said.

Costolo offered no clear explanation about why Twitter, which now has some 900 employees and more than 100 million active users, and Google could not come to an agreement over including tweets in Google search results. Google indexes 1,300 of Twitter’s pages every second, he said. “I think they have the data they need,” he said.

Toward the end of the interview, Costolo found time to discuss the 2012 presidential campaign, in which Twitter has played an active role. Candidates can mold their public perception through a successful Twitter persona, he said.

“Gosh, I really think 2012 is going to be the Twitter election,” he said.

The corny “spilled milk” joke that fell flat in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was instantly panned on Twitter, reactions people could analyze in real time, Costolo noted. And Costolo should know something about a well-timed joke: He was previously an improvisational comedian in Chicago.

Costolo won the audience over by sprinkling deadpan gags and self-deprecating humor into the pre-dinner interview.

“Look, I took an Ambien backstage, so we’ve got about seven minutes,” he said at the outset.

Costolo joked that his and the interviewer’s faces were “a little too close.” He later told the interviewer, “First of all, you have a very soothing voice. I’m picking up on that.”

He poked fun at the big red “dental chair” that the All Things Digital organizers plop every interviewee into at each conference. After making an insightful observation, he told the interviewer, “You like that? You swiveled in your chair a little bit.”

If he had been a political candidate, Costolo likely would have passed the “Would I want to get a beer with this guy?” test that has been informally applied as a measure of a candidate’s likeability.