Twitter Blocks Neo-Nazi Account in Germany, Marking First Use of Local Censorship Policy

By: Josh Wolford - October 20, 2012

As of right now, there are tweets floating around that everyone in the world can access except the residents of a single country – and it was Twitter’s doing.

In a move of local censorship, Twitter has apparently blocked German users from accessing the tweets of an account said to belong to a neo-Nazi group.

According to the New York Times, Twitter has blocked the account @hannoverticker, wich belongs to the group Besseres Hannover. In English, that translates to “Better Hannover.” German authorities had requested that Twitter simply block the account entirely, but Twitter has apparently acted upon their self-expressed ability to censor content locally without affecting the content globally.

Should Twitter (and other sites like Facebook and Google) act as policemen for their content? What, if anything should be censored? Is any censorship a slippery slope to more censorship? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Back in 2004, a German appeals court upheld a ban on web sites disseminating neo-Nazi information.

This marks the first time that Twitter has used this controversial measure. Here’s what Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray had to say in a tweet:

Twitter gave itself the ability to locally censor content on their site back in January. Here’s what they had to say about the new policy:

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.

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld.

This was seen as a modification, if not a clear reversal of Twitter’s firmly-held beliefs on free expression. Before, Twitter had stated that “our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed.”

Responding to criticism of the policy, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said that users shouldn’t worry about it.

“It will simply allow the company to transparently deal with valid government requests to remove certain content,” he said. He also added that there had been “no change in our stance or attitude or policy with respect to content on Twitter.”

Users from other parts of the world can still view the account and its tweets. Although blocking the account in Germany is better than simply deleting the account, I’m sure that many Twitter users and activists will see this as a loss for free speech.

It’s important to note that this is only the first time that Twitter has used their newly-given powers of local censorship. Twitter has banned content on a global scale before, at the behest of governments. Back in February, Twitter removed a parody account of French president Nicolas Sarkozy after receiving requests from people closely tied to his camp. They defended this act of censorship by claiming that the account violated Twitter’s policy on fake and parody accounts – mainly that the account didn’t contain enough identifiers signaling its status as fake.

Of course, we noted that there are dozens of parody accounts out there that have been up and running for years – many of which fail to provide much information distinguishing them from the real persons.

Also, this comes on the heels of news that Twitter is under fire in France over an anti-Semitic hashtag. In that case, anti-racism groups say that they may pursue legal action against the social media company. Twitter has seen its share of hastag-related quandaries, for example a massive backlash against one particular tag, #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend. In that case (and in many others) Twitter has employed a hands-off policy.

And it’s not just Twitter that has dealt with requests for censorship from specific countries. In August, Indian officials asked Facebook to remove content from its site that they claimed sparked a mass panic and exodus of tens of thousands of people from cities in the northeast part of the country. Apparently, it was rumors of some sort of violence in the area that sent people fleeing. In that case, Facebook gave its rote response of “we will only remove content that specifically violates our terms.”

But Facebook doesn’t always take that route. Back in March of 2011, Israel’s Minister of Diplomacy called on Facebook to promptly shut down a page called Third Palestinian Intifada. Facebook eventually took that page down, as the concluded that it did in fact violate their terms (it incited violence). More recently, Australians asked Facebook to remove pages that targeted the country’s Aborigine population. Facebook also complied with that request.

Google, of course, gets hundreds of takedown requests from governments every year. One of the most recent and highly-publicized examples came from Brazil, when the company refused to take down what a Brazilian judge deemed “derogatory” YouTube videos of a local political candidate. After a scuffle between Google’s Brazilian head Fabio Coelho and the law, Google finally caved an took down the “offending” videos. But on the flip side, Google has refused to take down the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” video that sparked violent protests across much of the Middle East.

The point is, web censorship is tricky and is not always handled in the exact same way by companies.

Twitter’s policy is different than most other properties because it allows them to block certain content locally, but not globally. Do you think that local censorship is a better alternative that simply removing the content altogether? Being a private company, Twitter has the right to do this. But should they?

Or is the limitation of free speech unacceptable, even when it comes to hate speech that a country has deemed illegal? Let us know in the comments.

Josh Wolford

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • Larry Hearold

    NO, twitter should not ban the site. While it may be offensive, it is NOT twitters call to determine what anyone should see. Now if twitter breaks the law of another country then that country can ban twitter all together if it is their written laws to do so but to ban a single individual or group is not right!

    • Conran

      That’s just it, this IS Twitter’s call, because it is a private business and not a public service!

  • Drew

    Twitter should not have the right or ability to block any content by any group or individual regardless of the content. As a previous poster mentioned, if the country in question has issues with content uploaded by citizens of their country, the authorities there should block out and ban twitter all together. I am personally disgusted twitter would even make such a move in this direction. By blocking so called “discrimination” in one country and leaving it accessible to everyone else makes no sense. If social media wants to censor what people say or what people read, the better start to look for another way to make money because they wont last long in a world where people pride on the fact they can express themse freely online. Great business move twitter…

  • Conran

    Like it or not, these are private businesses, not public services. Twitter, Google, Facebook and others are private businesses and they have no legal requirements to provide unbiased and uncensored content.

    It always astounds me when these debates come up, because people seem to have the misguided belief that these are all charities, or that everything should be free. That’s not the reality of business.

    The government does not run any of these private businesses, and as such, they can all block, remove or restrict content as they see fit.

    It might not be right or moral, and it’s probably a bad idea from a business perspective either, but this is not open to debate, just as the price of Bacon in your supermarket is not up for public debate.

    Don’t like it? Then don’t use these PRIVATE BUSINESSES.

  • Phil Up

    Today the world is disgusting! And the things people say and do are very displeasing in the sight of God. Twitter and other sites should be able to block and/or censor anything and everything that is posted. I agree with Conran. Like it or not, that is the way it is… Don’t like it then don’t use it!

  • CassieG

    Twitter and Facebook certainly DO have the right to censor anything they want to, in the same way that you can forbid talk about certain topics at your dinner table. it’s ‘private property’, so to speak, and you agreed to abide by the terms and conditions they impose, or you can leave if you don’t like it. Anyone who thinks that Twitter or Facebook doesn’t have the right to censor you doesn’t understand that the only prohibition to prevent free speech is by government, as in ‘Congress shall make no law….’ but that does extend privately. Congress can’t make laws censoring you on Twitter, in other words, but Twitter can be as open or draconian in regards to free speech as they like. This should not have any further discussion about whether they have the right to censor speech. They do. The only question is whether they ‘should’ or not. And that’s up to them in conjunction with public sentiment.

  • mike

    Drew and Conrad probably think I don’t have the right to call them idiots but that is exactly what I am doing. I’m tired of the nonsense in this world. Those who think they are entitled to share their filth in any way are literally destroying society.
    Of course these companies can do whatever they want to. Why should their rights be any less than others? Get a brain and quit whining. They have the freedom to do as they please just as you have the freedom to spout your nonsense any time you see fit.

  • http://httpmeblog1919blogspotcom Mohamed Fouad

    Surely we can not allow anyone to publish what he wants to offence others.

  • CassieG

    In fact, using the phrase ‘web censorship’ is a misnomer and implies that you have some sort of right to free speech on twitter. The article summary should more correctly say something like, “The terms and conditions of every company are different and are often instituted differently in different cases.” Web censorship should be a phrase more correctly reserved for when the government censors you, not when private companies do.

  • Tony

    Not sure what the correct call is, but think Google can all block, remove or restrict content as they see fit… why can Twitter?

  • Bill

    A very difficult subject to deal with. There are some subjects posted that are offensive to almost everyone. However, there can be thousands of subjects that are controversial on both pro’s and con’s. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has covered this issue, without censorship. But, I, as a devout Christian who monitors both national and international happenings, in societies there is the ever-present ‘danger’ of anti-Christian pressure to censor Christian influences. One glaring area (to me)of issues, can be seen here over the past 10 years: lawsuits brought by only 1 or 2 anti-Christian people in a community that results in a sweeping change in the local area policies, such as school policies supported by the 95% and long held traditions, overturned by judges…also things like monuments, the Ten Commandments, hillside crosses, etc. These changes should not be allowed to happen by the censorship of (usually) 1 or 2 people, or 1 local family (remember Madelyn M. O’Hair?). So the answer, whether we like it or not, is to not open the can of worms of censorship at all. This does allow everyone to read and think for themselves. Jesus, the Son of God said 2 important things here: 1. “People shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (the Holy Bible). (Matthew 4.4) 2. “I tell you this, people must give an account on judgment day for every idle word they have spoken.” (Matthew 14.36) Thanks for listening.

    • susan stern stern pr

      As a first amendment proponent and former broadcast journalist, generally I vehementally oppose free speech restrictions. That said, business review, pissed and are a haven for scheisters, con artists, envious competitors, etc. they do zero.moderation. No.verification of the posters name either. someone with an ax to grind abuses these sites hiding behind cloak of anonymity. And all three have a formal non-removal policy, too. here is where sites should censor content. They should moderate comments and reject those that are potentially abusive, inflammatory, libelous
      threatening to the targeted.individual or business entity, like facebook removes nudity albiet after pics go live, a problem that needs fixing there, too. was targeted by a criminal whose.motive was to steal thousands and thousands of dollars of work for free, a so-called former friend. He blasted.lies about my business and me.personally.using blackmail, so i would cave. Filing a $25000+ lawsuit for defamation and theft was out of my budget to sue. Had their been a web.monitor, censorship of the slanderous comments and.prohibition of a poster to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, I would not have to deal with this problem. Now, I spend countless.hours of seo to attempt to hide the fake comments from the listed above websites, a laborous task since the sites.have 1st page search engine ranking. Sound off. With feedback. susan stern omaha

  • Carlos Gibson-Foy

    Simply, freedom of speech is not a right but a privilege. People should not have the right to spread hatred and insight violence. It is interesting that those that cry freedom of speech pretend not to have limits, but they always do… Especially if it affects something close to their way of life. If you want freedom of speech are you willing to promote the rights of paedophiles and other sex offenders to post information and chat about their wishes and doings? And if not, then anything that curtails such behaviour needs to be supported (though carefully controlled).

    • Michael

      Not according to the U.S. Constitution and the Constitutions of each U.S. state. Speech is a right. People should be able to say what they want. Now if you are suggesting that each individual should speak responsibly, then I’d agree — but I don’t think Corporations & Government should be controlling free expression/speech.

  • Cap’n Cyberzone

    Whomever owns the site can do whatever they want.
    It’s called “Freedom”! If you don’t like it then you have the “Freedom” not to use that site and to start your own.

    • Dgswilson

      Was going to say the same thing. Now I don’t need to. Not everyone understand freedom – Well said.

  • donncadh

    any comment or appeal to incite voilance or harm to others should

    be banned/ censored.

    all other items should be allowed and people decide if they sould

    join in or not.

    • L J

      I agree. There will always be subjects that people agree or disagree with. But comments that promote hate and violence or bash on another person’s religion should be blocked. We don’t need any more hate in the world.

    • Dgswilson

      “…should be banned/ censored”

      Should be?

  • Ken W Sinclair

    All citizens of the world have an obligation, and privilege to encourage extremists, and other bullys to practice more loving, tolerent treatment of their neighors.

    • Dgswilson

      “…an obligation”? Who say’s?

  • Charlie

    Ahhh…that “slippery slope” of censorship! Unfortunately, I think we’re just seeing the beginning of what governments around the world will eventually be doing routinely…i.e., blocking certain content for certain areas, or even certain groups or individuals.

    I think it is quite unfortunate that such practices are likely to be increasing around the world, but I believe the SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, OPEN, CRISPA (et al?) measures that have been in the news are probably measures which are designed to ensure governments have those controls, so they can begin to censor and otherwise manipulate news and other information, y’know?
    I’m just sayin’…

  • Dgswilson

    I guess after reading a lot of comments I’ll say this: I think the question formed with “Should …” is very revealing.

    The reason we “didn’t” get a democracy as our form of government was so a group of people couldn’t team up and decide things for others. There are certain things we weren’t allowed a vote on. There were things the government couldn’t decide for the Republic.

    Democracies have historically turned out to be bad deals for individuals. The question isn’t should they, because that’s none of our business. The question is can they. Do they have the freedom to decide what goes on in their house?

    For now, yes they can decide. It’s up to us to ensure they, and we, can continue to exercise what individual freedom we have left.

  • Antonio Rocha

    I think Twitter has the right to decide what should or should not maintain in public.
    If something is published on the private life of a person, is not a public thing, this relates only to that person.I blame Twitter continues!
    If something is published on the public life of someone (e.g. a politician) and that is something proven, is not an invention (e.g. embezzlement of public money, the money is a community, this politician is a thief), which detracts from the other (s), Twitter should maintain in public, public interest, and is where the freedom of expression.
    Note: the right of expression does not give us the right to offend the life of others!
    Local censorship is not a good alternative. You close all Windows more leaves an open door!
    E.g. in the case of Brazil, being a local censorship.There are people in every part of the globe and it is an open door for the advertisements arrive at Brazil.
    And if something is illegal, does not fall within the law (s) that governs the company.For this, there are competent bodies, report it to those concerned.

  • Brent Roake

    Twitter is a private business, they can censor who they want when they want. It seems like there would be a need to do so if a user continually threatened harm to others.

  • Cap’n Cyberzone

    I direct this to the irresponsible, foolish, self-absorbed amongst you:

    If you have a Twitter account … you signed-up to get that account. When you signed-up you accepted Twitter’s “Terms of Service”.
    I suggest that you re-read Term #4 and Term #8.
    And if you didn’t read the “Terms of Service” … go play in traffic.

  • Bilal Tahir

    Its absolutely right and I think if hatred material is removed globally its equally justified. because the web space or domain registered in a particular name(weather person or organization) makes it the duty of the owner that his space must not be used against any other person. Taking it widely if the land of Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq should not be used against any other country then on the same grounds ethically no web space should be used against any other person, faith or nation.

  • L-Lists

    Free speech gives people the freedom to express opinions based on fallacies or weak arguments. It also gives people the freedom to correct those fallacies, and make strong counter-arguments to those weak arguments. The freedom helps erode fallacies, and over time strong arguments tend to prevail over weak arguments.

    If people are prevented from expressing bad views, they are more likely to hold onto those views because of the lack of exposure to superior opposing views. This is why cult leaders don’t like their members mixing with outsiders. Free speech does more to reform people away from neo-Nazism, than it does to convert them to it. Twitter should stop acting like a policeman, and give the neo-Nazis enough rope to hang themselves.

    Free speech also does more to prevent violence than incite it. If you compare democracies with countries with authoritarian governments (that violently attack free speech in the name of social harmony), democracies tend to have a lot less violence.

    • Watching the Wheels

      Free speech inhibits violence? I think America just might be “the psycho went postal” capital of the world.

  • Engage 2012 Conference

    I think that you should all re-read the Twitter`s Terms of Services. If you have a Twitter Account, you had to accept them and if you did, I strongly recommend you to read especially point #4 & #8, where it is clearly stated for what purposes you can`t use your account. It was a right thing that Twitter had done and it did comply with their Terms of Services.

  • Watching the Wheels

    It’s called ACCOUNTABILITY and being mature. Twitter and other social media are open pretty much for everyone’s use. Standards of considerate behavoir need to be maintained.

  • Dai Sharkey

    The weak amongst us like to be controlled as they have no control over their actions but the strong are able to make an intellectual choice with all the content online. I choose what content is on my site and I suppose twitter has the right to choose what content is on theirs. I do not believe in a blanket censorship in any way but I see the ‘pro’ sides just as bad as the ‘anti’ sides. Is it always going to be ‘one rule for one’ and ‘another rule for everyone else?’

  • Ethical Seo Consulting

    Awesome is a very good article.

  • Neodym

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