Back in January, Twitter announced that it would allow the company to ban content in specific countries upon legal request, rather than restrict it globally to all Twitter users. Now, for the first time, the company has used its new-ish tool, blocking access in Germany to the Twitter account Besseres Hannover, a neo-Nazi group. This action was taken after the Germany Ministry of the Interior for Lower-Saxony sent a request to Twitter asking that the account be removed.
If you were in Germany, visiting the banned Twitter page would reveal the message, “Tweet withheld. This Tweet from @hannoverticket has been withheld in: Germany. Learn more.” When visiting the offending Twitter account in the US, however, it shows up like normal. This is because the account in perfectly legal in the US, but not in Germany, where neo-Nazi hate groups are illegal.
The moment was announce with a simple tweet by Twitter’s general counsel, Alex Macgillivray, which reads: “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.” This is the same process that Google uses, as well, in censoring information that may be perfectly fine in one locale, but banned or otherwise restricted in another. The thought of censorship in any form draws its fair share of critics.
During the Olympics, Twitter was accused of censoring the social media account of Guy Adams, journalist, who was critical of NBC’s coverage of the event. Twitter apologized, and while many felt that the accusation was unfair, others claimed it hinted at a dangerous trend. Whatever your stance on censorship, it should be noted that Twitter has had this feature for almost a year, and just now used it, indicating that the company isn’t particularly keen on running around blocking content.