October 18, 2012
Twitter Blocks German Neo-Nazi Tweets At Government Request
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
In January, Twitter announced their ability to “filter” Tweets which may violate restrictions on free speech in the country in which a user lives.“Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world,” wrote Twitter in a January blog post.
“We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”
Today, Twitter got the first opportunity to make good on these promises, blocking Tweets from a group which German police say are guilty of “criminal association.” The group is thought to have some neo-nazi ties and, at the behest of the German government, Twitter has blocked the tweets from @Hannoverticker in Germany. As they mentioned in their January post, these Tweets are still able to be seen in other parts of the world, including the U.S.
Alex Macgillivray, Twitter's general counsel, made the announcement in a Tweet last night, tweeting: “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.”
Macgillivray later provided a link to a letter that the Hannover police sent to Twitter asking them to filter the tweets from this organization.
Stating that the Ministry of the Interior of the State of Lower-Saxony in Germany had banned “Besseres Hannover” (“Better Hannover” in English) and seized their assets, the Hannover Police said that the next step was to block all social media accounts tied to the group.
“It is the task of the Polizeidirektion Hannover (Hannover Police) to enforce the ban. “¦ I ask you to close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organization ℠Besseres Hannover,'” reads the letter.
Macgillivray has also mentioned that, while Twitter never likes blocking the content of its users, they´re glad they have only had to do so selectively by country and with such transparency.
According to the BBC, “Better Hannover” has been charged with “inciting racial hatred” as well as starting a criminal organization. The alleged neo-nazi group is also accused of threatening immigrants as well as distributing racially charged materials at schools in lower Saxony.
Better Hannover is also accused of sending out a threatening video to Aygul Ozkan, Germany´s Social Affairs Minster. Mr. Ozkan was born in Germany but has family ties to Turkey.
The blocking of @HannoverTicker in Germany has once again brought up the issue of free speech on the Internet. While companies like Google and Twitter say they never want to censor their users´ content, it is sometimes advantageous and even necessary to comply with the requests of foreign governments.
Jillian C. York with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told the New York Times they way in which Twitter handled this request is a good way to appease other countries while maintaining an open reputation.
“It´s not a great thing, but it´s a way of minimizing censorship,” York told the NY Times. “It´s better for Twitter if they can keep countries happy without having to take the whole thing down.”