Earlier this year, Twitter added the ability to block Twitter accounts and tweets by a country-by-country basis, in case it needed to respond to legal requests. Nine months later, the company has done this for the first time, for a hate group based in Germany.
The Financial Times spotted the action and reported it in a blog post today. The story come out of information Twitter sent to Chilling Effects last month, part of Twitter’s mechanism for being transparent about censorship requests.
The Chilling Effects filing reveals that a Germany ministry (the Ministry of the Interior for Lower-Saxony) had banned the “Besseres Hannover” organization. The group, “Better Hanover” in English, is apparently a neo-Nazi organization, which are not allowed under German law.
As part of the disbanding, the ministry also ordered that its social media account be seized. From the letter sent to Twitter:
The organisation “Besseres Hannover” uses the Twitter account….
I ask you to close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organisation “Besseres Hannover”.
The account actually continues to stay open, as you can see below, a screenshot from me accessing it:
But that’s because I’m in the US. If I were in Germany, I shouldn’t be able to access it. In Germany, people should see something like this (with the “Learn more” text leading to the Chilling Effects filing):
This is part of the wink-wink system of “censorship” that’s long been operated by Google. The search engine, similar to Google, may “ban” pages from appearing in certain countries. But those outside those countries (or those able to pretend they are outside of it) can still access the content.
Twitter confirmed to me that this was the first time they’ve done country-specific censorship like this, and Twitter’s general counsel Alex Macgillivray has also tweeted the same, saying:
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.
The group, by the way, doesn’t appear to have social media accounts with Google+ or Facebook. It could be that it did have these, but that they were closed without Google or Facebook filing similar information with Chilling Effects. Or, it just may have never had them.
It does have a web site, but that no longer seems to work. That might also explain why there’s no similar Chilling Effects filing from Google, which might have been asked to remove listings. Those listings (around 80 in all, mostly for things that aren’t even web pages but blogging support files) lead to nothing. Over time, they’ll disappear.
Earlier this year, Twitter took flak over accusations that it censored the account of journalist Guy Adams for being critical about NBC’s Olympic coverage. Twitter had a partnership with NBC for Olympics. Accusations of censorship were overblown, in my opinion, as I wrote then:
I don’t think this was part of some heavy-handy conspiracy to silence Adams and use censorship to keep the tweetstream clean of anti-NBC comments. He was hardly the most notable person out there tweeting against NBC.
But there was no doubt that Twitter acted in improperly in suspending the account, something that Twitter later apologized for.
Whatever rap the #NBCfail fracas, as it became to be called, caused for Twitter, the company gained points when it later fought against a court order to hand over the tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protestor. The company finally caved when a judge threatened that he would fine Twitter, and to assess a proper fine, he would demand Twitter’s financial records, which have never been revealed, since the company is private.