Twitter announced this week that it has censored a neo-Nazi account at the request of the German government. The account, @hannoverticker, is run by a group called Besseres Hannover ("Better Hanover"), which is suspected of operating what German police describe as a "criminal association." The group's tweets are still visible in the US and across the rest of the world, but will be withheld from users within Germany. This marks the first time that Twitter has taken such country-specific action since implementing its controversial local censorship policy in January.
Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray announced the decision in a tweet published early Tuesday morning, posting a link to the company's policy on country withheld content, as well as a link to the ban request filed by the Hanover Police Department.
"Suspicion of forming a criminal association"
The letter, dated September 25th, notes that the Ministry of the Interior in Lower Saxony has already banned Better Hanover and seized its assets as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. The document doesn't mention any specific criminal activities, though the Financial Times, citing reports from the German press, notes that the group has been linked to violent threats against immigrants, as well as the distribution of racist materials in schools.
When Twitter announced its content removal policy earlier this year, it emphasized that tweets would only be blocked upon "valid and applicable legal request." The move drew criticism from free speech advocates, though Twitter stressed that it would only exercise its power as a "reactive" measure, adding that it would "continue to defend and respect each user's voice" in addition to government-specific demands. Macgillivray reiterated this position Tuesday morning, expressing regret at having to withhold content, but stressing the benefit of doing so in a "narrow" and "transparent" manner.