Twitter Cuts Off Illegal Neo Nazi Group Account In Germany

from the censor-locally dept

Back in January, we wrote about Twitter's decision to set up tools to allow it to censor locally if required to under local laws. While many people got upset about this, believing it meant that Twitter was supporting censorship, we noted that the issue is a bit more nuanced than that. You could take the extreme position that Twitter should stand up for free speech absolutely, no questions asked, anywhere around the world. And, to some extent, I'm sympathetic to that viewpoint. However, at the same time, it is a fact that different countries have different laws, and some of those laws restrict free speech. Twitter's decision, then, is a compromise on that, but in a somewhat more effective way. They will only block the content in that specific country where it has been deemed illegal.

And, now, nine months later, Twitter's General Counsel Alex Macgillivray (@amac), has admitted to using the censorship ability for the first time, for the account of a neo-Nazi group based in Germany, where it has been declared illegal. The block only applies to Germany. As some have noted, this is a really bad group. But, of course, it's always those kinds of cases that test your principles. As promised, Twitter has publicly shared the takedown letter it received on ChillingEffects.
Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

the enclosed letter gives you the information that 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 Public Prosecutor (State Attorney's Office) has launched an investigation on suspicion of forming a criminal association.

It is the task fo the Polizeidirektion Hannover (Hannover Police) to enforce the ban.

The organisation "Besseres Hannover" uses the Twitter account
besseres-hannover@hannoverticker
https://twitter.com/hannoverticker

I ask you to close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organisation "Besseres Hannover".

Please confirm that you have received this letter and let me know what measures you have taken.

Yours sincerely,

[signature]
Head of Police Admin Dept
This is the kind of thing that Twitter absolutely expected -- and the fact that is only banning the account in Germany, rather than following the demands of the letter ordering the account be shutdown completely, suggests that Twitter isn't just caving in here. Of course, given my strong belief in the importance of free speech, I think that the demand to shut down the account itself is the bigger issue here, rather than Twitter's reaction to it. In ordering it shut down, and leading to this public admission about it from Twitter, all that German law enforcement has done is call more attention to this group.

Also, I'd take some issue with Amac's claim that this is the "first time" the company has used its ability to "withhold content." It has done so repeatedly in the past over DMCA claims. Yes, that's somewhat different, but not as much as some would like to believe. Both are cases where the local law claims that the content in question is illegal, and upon notices sent to Twitter, it blocks that content. That makes no statement on whether or not such content should or should not be illegal. But the basics of the situation are really the same.

Either way, I appreciate that Twitter is at least trying to walk the fine line of both complying with the laws in countries like Germany, while simultaneously effectively demonstrating why such laws don't necessarily work well. I can certainly understand why Germany has laws against neo-Nazis and hate groups. Given the history there, it's hard to imagine such laws not existing. But situations like this raise questions about just how effective they really are. In this case, all it's really done is call more attention to the group in question. As for Twitter, you could argue that the company could go much further, but it would clearly run into significant legal challenges. And, while it would be great if it also recognized that the DMCA notice situation really isn't all that different, it's difficult to fault Twitter for deciding this particular battle wasn't worth fighting against.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:34am

    We may not like the message put out by these Neo Nazis but they have a right to be heard and we have the right to ignore them.

    There is absolutely no excuse for censoring them like this as it is a fundamental breach of freedom of speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:34am

    Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    "...it's difficult to fault Twitter for deciding this particular battle wasn't worth fighting against."

    This IS political speech, but you give Twitter a pass, as always for a corporation. I just note the correlation here, don't exactly disagree with THIS one, either...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:38am

    Re: Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    The entity issuing a DMCA notice against the baby video isn't a corporation?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:39am

    Re:

    You just don't understand!

    If the German government doesn't censor unpopular opinions, they run the risk of slipping into a fascist dictatorship!

    /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re:

    Love that irony. Top marks, young man.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:50am

    Re: Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    There is a difference here. Unlike the US, Germany can/does outlaw speech. So complying with local law cannot be held against Twitter. We cannot hold the world up to our standards.

    Well, except in the case of copyright. /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:03am

    Re: Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    ootb, read carefully:

    You could argue that the proper response would be to stand up to local governments and say, "sorry, we don't block anything" -- and I'd actually have sympathy with that response. But the truth is that if a government is demanding censorship, then Twitter is likely going to have to comply or face complete blocking.

    This is from the linked article

    Seems you are incapable of having a nuanced discussion and not attack Mike at every single post. A pity, it seems you could contribute if you put some effort.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:08am

    Pre-Internet thinking seeping through

    I just noticed this part of the letter: "[...] and not to open any substitute accounts for the organisation [...]".

    But it is not Twitter which opens accounts; it is the users, via the automated account registration form.

    This seems to be a leftover from the pre-Internet world, where to open an account you had to talk to a clerk. In that world, that request made sense; Twitter would tell all its clerks: "do not open any accounts for these guys". But in the Internet world, there are no clerks to judge each application.

    A request which would make more sense would be "[...] and close any newly opened substitute accounts for the organisation [...]"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Chris Brand (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    You know what would be nice ?

    If they started reacting to DMCA notices by blocking the content *only in the US*.

    But then I'd also like not to have to sit through those stupid "The FBI is coming to get you" warnings when the FBI doesn't have jurisdiction here...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:14am

    I believe Twitter's decision is very reasonable. It left the platform open for a discussion about the Govt decision just like we are doing here instead of getting the site fully blocked on Germany. I'd be all over the German discussions to see how they received this...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:16am

    Re: Pre-Internet thinking seeping through

    What if they open an account called @hpfohefu? How can Twitter know? The only way would be actively filter. The order is not feasible in any way. Or do we really think ppl sharing child porn online name their servers "child porn heaven"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re:

    You do realise that's pretty much exactly what happened 70 years ago, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Jesse (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:40am

    I don't get why some Americans so easily label others as terrorists and put them on the no fly lists or whatever, but then cry foul when Nazis are censored. If people fighting against persecution, such as Palestinians and Tamils, advocate for violence they are terrorists, but then how can the same not be said for those advocating for racial genocide?

    I don't know, it just feels like there is a bit of cognitive dissonance going on here, and it feels like the skin colour of the subject plays and important role.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re:

    Yes, I'm actually glad Mike got to writing this piece before I did, because I was going to take a slightly different angle that may have upset some people. That angle would have been: Dear Germany: take your fucking head out of the sand and stop pretending Hitler didn't happen.

    The idea that there are laws on the books in Germany which force Twitter to censor assholes simply because an exponentially larger German asshole killed millions of people, but Germany wants to pretend that never happened, is fucking stupid. Sorry, Germany, but Hitler is damn well part of your history. Outlawing fascist speech, outlawing Mein Kampf, and all the rest may be well-intentioned, but it will only do the opposite of what you expect.

    It will embolden the hateful while also turning them into something of a victim. Worse, younger generations may not get the full scope and picture of what happened historically, thus perhaps causing history to repeat itself rather than all of us learning the lessons of the past.

    So, the enemy hear really isn't Twitter. It's Germany. Again. It's crime is trying to obfuscate the fact that its people, two generations ago, killed millions of people. Too bad, they did. Get over it. Most of the rest of the world has. Your turn.

    I propose we launch IW1 (Internet War 1) against the ironically fascist German government aim to obfuscate their past. Speech should be as free or more free in Germany as it is in America. Mein Kampf should NOT be censored, but understood for the idiotic hate-shit that it is, which requires reading the idiotic hate-shit inside of it.

    IW1: This Time, It's Only Kind of Personal....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    It takes a special kind of insanity to contradict yourself within the span of two sentences. Have you considered politics?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Yogi, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    DH, I think that the German elites simply have absolutely no trust in the ability of the German people to differentiate between evil and good, fact and fiction, the truth and a good lie, and therefore things like Mein Kampf are outlawed. Maybe they know their people better than you and me, and maybe they're just afraid to find out what will happen if they allow such freedoms. Who can blame them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "The idea that there are laws on the books in Germany which force Twitter to censor assholes simply because an exponentially larger German asshole killed millions of people, but Germany wants to pretend that never happened, is fucking stupid. Sorry, Germany, but Hitler is damn well part of your history."

    You obviously don't know much about Germany. Every German learns about WW2 and the Nazis in school. And not just in history classes. They have to read literature about WW2/Holocaust in German classes, talk about it in religion/ethics/philosophy classes, go to museums, watch documentaries, visit concentration camps and memorial sites, etc.. Public broadcasting stations show documentaries about all aspects of WW2 all the time. There are memorials for Nazi victims everywhere in this country. You get to hear so much about this stuff that it comes out of your ears. Every German citizen knows what happened back then and nobody (except some neo Nazi groups) tries to hide the terrible things that happened back then. So saying that Germany tries to pretend it never happens is far from reality.

    "...outlawing Mein Kampf..."
    It's not outlawed or banned. The government of Bavaria confiscated Hitler's property including his copyrights after his death and they use these copyrights to prevent publishers from reprinting the book. But it's perfectly legal to own, buy and sell copies of the book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I can blame them, that's who. The German people are by no means stupid. The way you get that kind of historic horrificness to repeat itself is by hiding it, rather than understanding it. Pretending like the average German citizen can't be trusted not to raise another Hitler would be like outlawing information on slavery in the American south. It'd be stupid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I read something on the net (unfortunately I can't remember where) about the differences between Germans and Americans which i thought was pretty spot on:

    American society considers everyone to be basically a good person, but a little bit dumb.

    German society considers everyone to be basically an intelligent person, but a little bit evil.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Yogi, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 1:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Thanks for providing some facts!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Yet you rail for years over taking down a baby dance video!

    This IS political speech, but you give Twitter a pass, as always for a corporation.

    You are comparing apples and oranges. We don't fault companies for following the law. We fault those who use the law in stupid ways in both cases.

    In the dancing baby case, we don't fault YouTube for complying with the takedown, but we do fault UMG for issuing it (also, last I checked, UMG is a corporation, which blows your idiotic theory out of the water).

    In this case, we don't fault Twitter for complying with the law, but do fault the German government for using the law in an ineffective way.

    There is no contradiction.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I stand completely corrected. Had those facts completely wrong. Thanks for correcting me.

    That said, the restriction of speech by certain groups as a result of their past is still a symptom of what I was discussing....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Who can blame them?


    I can, too.

    One of the huge lessons of the holocaust that most people miss is that there was nothing special about the German character that made it possible. It literally can happen in just the same way in any nation on Earth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    IronM@sk, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    A) Your sarcasm filter is leaky. B) There is actually a /sarc at the end of the post, so your reading comprehension is lacking.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 3:46pm

    Re:

    I don't agree. I think you're taking two very different camps, with very different attitudes, and lumping them together as "Americans" as if they don't disagree with each other about things.

    I am against censorship, both with regards to Nazis and terrorists equally. Note also that saying these groups should be able to speak is light years away from being sympathetic to what they're saying.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    If you're asking others to perform a criminal act, like injuring somebody, is that free speach? I doubt it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 7:35pm

    Re: You know what would be nice ?

    "The FBI is coming to get you" warnings when the FBI doesn't have jurisdiction here...

    As if that's stopped the US before...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:15pm

    Jurisdiction?

    Does Twitter have any presence (servers, corporate offices, etc.) physically located within German borders? Because if not, they are not subject to German law. (And even if they do, German law applies only on those servers and in those offices so located.) They could ignore that demand letter with impunity. (In the event that they have servers on German soil, those servers would have to not contain local copies of that account and its data -- but anyone accessing a Twitter server elsewhere instead of this hypothetical twitter.de site, even from Germany, could still find the content without there being any violation of German law occurring at the twitter.de servers.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2012 @ 2:17am

    Re: Jurisdiction?

    But it's ok if the US government seizes internet domain names of companies in foreign countries?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2012 @ 11:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Not to mention... What makes the government officials in charge of censorship better/smarter/wiser than the average German?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Oct 20th, 2012 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Jurisdiction?

    Of course not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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