Twitter has been criticized after blocking access to a neo-Nazi message, though for not being proactive enough in its censorship rather than being heavy-handed. The short-message social network flexed its country-specific takedown tools for the first time this week, blocking users in Germany from reading posts by a right-wing extremest group after requests from local law enforcement. However, Twitter still “lags far behind other established social media platforms” one watchdog argues.
“Twitter is fast becoming the Internet’s distribution platform of choice for bigots who use it to get their messages of hate out in 140 characters or less,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement. “Twitter’s terms of service lag far behind other established social media platforms in setting standards which would provide a basis for Twitter to block or remove racist, hate-filled tweets and re-tweets.”
The blocked account was downed at the request of the Hannover Police, according to a copy of the notice sent to Twitter in late September at Chilling Effects, after government intervention in the extremist group. Germany has strict anti-Nazi laws, though free speech provisions in countries such as the US mean such tweets, however distasteful many readers may find them, are legally permitted.
“The Ministry of the Interior of the State of Lower-Saxony in Germany has banned the organisation “Besseres Hannover”. It is disbanded, its assets are seized and all its accounts in social networks have to be closed immediately” the Hannover Police wrote to Twitter. “The Public Prosecutor (State Attorney’s Office) has launched an investigation on suspicion of forming a criminal association. It is the task fo [sic] the Polizeidirektion Hannover (Hannover Police) to enforce the ban. I ask you to close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organisation “Besseres Hannover”.”
Twitter’s reaction – commented on by company general counsel Alex Macgillivray as “Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly and transparently” – nonetheless proved insufficient for the ADL, who have demanded a method by which individuals can flag and/or delete offensive tweets. “The pervasiveness of anti-Semitism and racism on Twitter” the group said, “warrants a re-examination of its terms of service and implementation of user-friendly mechanisms to flag and remove problematic tweets.”
Facebook, meanwhile, has not commented specifically on the group, nor confirmed whether it was contacted regarding a takedown of any connected page. “We work with anti-Nazi organisations and would encourage anyone who finds content like this to report it to Facebook” the social site told the BBC.