Twitter has used country-by-country blocking powers for the first time to restrict access to a neo-Nazi Twitter account in Germany at the request of local authorities. The move was spotted by the FT, which also flagged up two tweets from Twitter’s general counsel, Alex Macgillivray confirming both the request to close the account and the fact that Twitter had acted on the request
According to a filing on free speech organisation Chillingeffects.org Twitter received the request to close the Twitter account of banned far right group, Besseres Hannover, last month. The request came from the Hannover Police acting on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior of the State of Lower-Saxony in Germany — the letter Twitter received notes: ”[Besseres Hannover] 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.”
The FT reports Twitter moved to restrict access to the account earlier this week.
Twitter users outside Germany can still view content from the @hannoverticker Twitter account of the banned group, but users trying to access it from within Germany will see a message saying the account is being withheld. This country-specific blocking policy was announced by Twitter in January as a compromise to tread the line between supporting free speech and being able to operate its service without breaking laws in all the different countries where the service is used.
Here’s what Twitter said about the modification of ‘the tweets must flow’ when it announced it back in January – notably it flagged up pro-Nazi content as an example of a situation where country-specific blocking might apply
As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.
Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. 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. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.
Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that this is the first time it has withheld content since announcing the ability to do so nine months ago. A spokeswoman for the company added: “The important piece to be clear on is that we built this tool so that when legally required to do so, we only have to withhold content in an individual country.”
Twitter provides more details about country withheld content here.