Using its country-specific content-blocking tool for the first time, Twitter has shut down access to a neo-Nazi group's account in Germany.
"Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently," Alex Macgillivray, Twitter's general counsel, tweeted last night. "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."
Dirk Hensen, a spokesman for Twitter, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the account @hannoverticker has been blocked only in Germany, where its content is considered illegal.
Twitter's content-blocking tool is designed to enable the micro-blogging site to remove illegal content in a particular country, while allowing it to remain available for everyone else.
According to AP, the @hannoverticker account is used by a far-right fringe group -- Besseres Hannover -- which officials from the German state of Lower Saxony banned last month, saying it promotes Nazi ideals in an attempt to undermine Germany's democracy.
Lower Saxony officials sent Twitter a letter, which the site posted, asking the site to "close this account immediately and not to open any substitute accounts for the organisation 'Besseres Hannover.'"
When Twitter announced the country-specific content tool in January, it stressed a commitment to openness. "We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the Tweets must continue to flow."
However, Twitter also noted that many countries, including the U.S., have laws that may apply to tweets and 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 company wrote.
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the country-specific tool is a good one for Twitter to have in its arsenal.
"This kind of thing is going to come up elsewhere," he added. "They need to comply with local laws, and they want to do it without disrupting their global service.... By setting up a country-by-country system, it keeps the limitations of one government from spreading over borders."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.