The popular social media network and prominent Silicon Valley startup has taken another step into real-world politics by vetting access to user-generated content from a right-wing German hate group.
On Wednesday night, the company’s general counsel Alex Macgillivray announced through Twitter that his company's site was blocking access to a neo-Nazi account based in Germany after being contacted by the nation’s government.
“Never want to withhold content,” the message said, adding that it’s “good to have tools to do it narrowly and transparently,” referring to how, exactly, the group’s messages will be controlled for Twitter’s international audience.
The Twitter account for Besseres Hannover, a right-wing extremist group based in Germany’s northwestern state, Lower Saxony, will no longer be available to users in Germany. Other users outside the country will still be able to see the tweets.
Explaining the decision to cooperate with Germany’s request, Macgillivrray cited Twitter’s new local censorship policy that was first created in January of this year. This is the first time Twitter has implemented the policy that allows it to block content in violation of local laws.
“With hundreds of millions of tweets posted every day around the world, our goal is to respect our users' expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws,” Twitter's company policy states.
Macgillivray also included a copy of the original letter sent by the German police requesting that the content be blocked. In the letter, German police explained that the government had already banned all Besseres Hannover activity.
"It is disbanded, its assets are seized, and all its accounts in social networks have to be closed immediately," the letter read.
Germany, which has developed famously stringent criminal law policies to prevent Volksverhetzung, or “incitement of popular hatred” against certain segments of the population in the wake of high-profile neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial cases in the country, charged members of the group with inciting racial hatred and creating a criminal organization.
Besseres Hannover is charged with issuing threats against immigrants and disseminating racist materials through the school system in Lower Saxony.
The police statement added that the group is also suspected of sending threats to the state’s social affairs minister, Aygul Ozkan, whose family is originally from Turkey.
Bessers Hannover, for its part, took to Twitter to protest the ban, appealing as many Germany extremists groups do to free speech.
“Look at this regime,” the group said early Thursday morning. “They gossip viciously about china and russia but noone about them! freedom for #germany! #censorship #injustice #brd.”