Los Angeles –– In a move that would commence local censorship, following a firestorm of controversy over anti-Semitic tweets in France, Twitter has apparently blocked access in Germany to the account of a neo-Nazi group known as Besseres Hannover due to its alleged hate speech. The move is the first implementation of Twitter’s country-specific blocking.
Early this year, Twitter created the capability to block tweets and that policy allows it to block content in specific countries if tweets violate local laws, while still allowing Twitter users — err, customers — in other countries to see them.
Hence, the recently blocked tweets will no longer be visible to users in Germany although the rest of the world will be able to view them.
“We announced the ability to withhold content back in Jan. Now, we are using it for the first time re: a group deemed illegal in Germany,” Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel confirmed it last night, by tweet, of course:
We announced the ability to withhold content back in Jan. We’re using it now for the first time re: a group deemed illegal in Germany.
— Alex Macgillivray (@amac) October 18, 2012
Germany and France, for example, ban pro-Nazi content, but it is protected speech under the First Amendment here in the United States. As a result, Twitter could ban such content from users in Germany and France, but it would remain live for those in the U.S. That’s what happened this week with Besseres Hannover. The group’s Twitter feed is still live in the U.S., but has been blocked in Germany.
On the other hand, Twitter had received a request to close the account from German police, and recorded it, as is Twitter policy, on the Chilling Effects anti-censorship website:
The enclosed letter gives you the information that the Ministry of the Interior of the State of Lower-Saxony in Germany has banned the organization “Besseres Hannover.” It is disbanded, its assets are seized and all its accounts in social networks have to be closed immediately. The Public Prosecutor (State Attorney’s Office) has launched an investigation on suspicion of forming a criminal association.
It is the task of the Polizeidirektion Hannover (Hannover Police) to enforce the ban. The organization “Besseres Hannover” uses the Twitter account
I ask you to close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organization “Besseres Hannover”.
However, the blocked group is allegedly connected to a neo-Nazi organization in Hannover, Germany, where for obvious historical reasons neo-Nazi organizations are illegal. Due to Twitter’s country-specific method of dealing with censorship, however, the account has not been closed.
The tweets and account are still available and visible from other countries … so the organization is now protesting, in English, about German censorship:
— besseres-hannover (@hannoverticker) October 18, 2012
Nevertheless, Twitter’s announcement earlier this year prompted retaliation from users who feared the micro-blogging service would honor takedown requests from repressive regimes. But Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said at the time that the new policy would simply allow the company to transparently deal with valid government requests to remove certain content.