There are all kinds of things we'd love to block from Twitter, like Justin Bieber fans, shameless self promotion and of course racist propaganda. Well it looks like the guys at Twitter HQ are addressing one of our bugbears by blocking a neo-Nazi account in Germany called Besseres Hannover. Although it may make sense for offensive, racist and illegal content to be banned, the decision raises some important questions about freedom of speech online, a topic that's been in and out of the news everyday over the past few weeks.
Twitter is a private company, so although there's been an uproar about the ban the truth is the microblogging platform can really do whatever the hell it likes. In January of this year a post on the Twitter support pages explained that it may withhold content in certain countries in the future:
"Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time."
The blocking of the Besseres Hannover account is the first time this new and controversial policy has been put in place after officials in Germany requested it be banned due to its laws about barring hate speech. Yesterday Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray (@amac) tweeted about the decision:
"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."
Well that all makes complete sense, right? Umm kind of. The policy that accounts and tweets may be withheld if they're considered illegal by a certain government is rather tricky and will surely put Twitter in awkward situations in the future, especially if a country is trying to silence activists or members of the public during times of revolution or political unrest.
Twitter will need to find a way to work with governments while also maintaining the trust of its users, which could work well or prove to be an impossible task.