Twitter uses new 'country-withheld content' rule to block neo-Nazi group tweets in Germany

First time the website has withheld content in a specific country
  • @kevinJrawlinson

The social media site Twitter has blocked posts from a neo-Nazi group from view in Germany at the request of the local authorities, in the site's first ever instance of country specific censorship.

A spokesman said that the account @hannoverticker, which belongs to the far-right group Besseres Hannover (Better Hanover) was blocked in Germany, where its content is considered illegal. Users in other countries, however, are still free to read it.

While Twitter is known to be reluctant to censor content for fear of scaring away users, the move has prompted criticism of the German law under which the group is banned, rather than the social media site.

"Twitter is a private company, and while it has a decent record on free speech, it cannot be expected to go to the barricade for every issue. Moreover, Germany is a huge and wealthy market," said Pádraig Reidy of Index on Censorship.

He added: "Twitter has complied with the law, and been open about it. The German law itself is where the problem lies. Banning far-right views and Nazi-inspired historical revisionism is anachronistic for a modern liberal democracy. And these laws are persistently pointed to and mocked when the EU attempts to lecture the world on free speech."

Besseres Hannover was banned by Lower Saxony's state government last month on the grounds that it was promoting Nazi ideals in an attempt to undermine German's democracy.

The account is invisible to German internet browsers but remains visible elsewhere. Twitter announced the news today morning on its own site.

Twitter has little choice when ordered to comply with local laws. Its country specific blocking is an attempt to limit any damage done in the minds of those who would rather see the site place freedom of speech above local censorship laws.

Its lawyer Alex Macgillivray wrote: "Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently."

He later posted a message which read: "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."

In a post on its site, the company wrote: "if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.

"We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression… And, we have expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to publish not only DMCA notifications but also requests to withhold content -- unless, similar to our practice of notifying users, we are legally prohibited from doing so.

"We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the Tweets must continue to flow."