Nazi Twitter account silenced in Germany

Twitter, for the first time since its launch in 2006, has blocked access to an account. German police call the neo-Nazi group that operates the account a criminal organization.

The Nazis' tweets are blocked only in Germany, under Twitter's policy of "country-withheld content," the New York Times reported, in a first for the company that, up to now, has been almost entirely hands-off in terms of regulating content.

"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," Alex Mackillivray, Twitter's general counsel, tweeted yesterday (Oct. 17). "Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently."

German authorities, who banned the group Besseres Hannover ("Better Hanover") last month, asked Twitter to disable the account entirely, but Twitter's remedy still allows access to the Nazis' tweets outside of Germany.

The use of pro-Nazi rhetoric and symbols is illegal in Germany.

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Twitter came under fire earlier this year when it temporarily disabled the account of journalist Guy Adams, who heavily criticized NBC’s Olympic coverage, Gawker noted. After Twitter, an Olympic partner, received a complaint from NBC, it claimed Adams had violated its terms of service by publishing a private email address. In fact he had not.

To some, Twitter's compromise with Germany represents a show of good will that could prevent a broader government crackdown on the service in the future, Gizmodo points out.

But to others, it’s a slippery slope: If Twitter will censor an account because a national government asks it to, what precedent and expectation does that set?

Would Twitter censor the "illegal" accounts of rebels or dissenters at the request of Libya or Iran? Or the accounts of Anonymous and Julian Assange in the United States or U.K.?

Twitter has stood up to subpoena requests from governments for information on Twitter users in the past, but this latest move may open up an entirely new can of worms.

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