Back in January Twitter unveiled a revision to their stance on censorship – namely, that while they agreed that the tweets must continue to flow, Twitter’s increasing position on the international stage meant that, inevitably, they would have to work with governments and enforcement agencies on a per-country basis in order to better serve their respective values and norms with regard to freedom of expression.
To do this, Twitter implemented functionality which allowed them to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country. Yesterday, they actioned this policy for the first time, blocking a neo-Nazi account at the request of the German authorities.
The account in question belonged to the organisation Besseres Hannover, which has been linked to the distribution of racist materials and violent threats against immigrants in Germany. On Twitter, they published under the username @hannoverticker, and this profile, and all of its tweeted content, is now no longer visible to German users, who will now see a variation on these withheld messages if they try to engage.
As per their policy, this isn’t a global, Twitter-wide ban, and users outside of Germany can continue to read and interact with the profile (if they are so inclined).
Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray announced the block yesterday.
— Alex Macgillivray (@amac) October 18, 2012
The request to take action came via the German police, who had already seized the assets of Besseres Hannover and asked Twitter to ensure that “all its accounts in social networks have to be closed immediately”. Why Twitter chose to censor the @hannoverticker profile in Germany rather than remove it altogether, as per the direct request, is something that might lead to some questions being asked.
That said, it’s been nine months since Twitter announced this policy change, and assuming we won’t now see a snowball of “reactively withheld content”, I personally don’t have any problems with this move. A very unpleasant organisation has been rendered impotent in the country in which they operated and can do the most damage, and it would, in this writer’s opinion, take the most stringent of free speech advocates to argue against that.
(Censored image via Shutterstock.)