Twitter bans Neo-Nazi group, a first for the website

Twitter has blocked the account of a German Neo-Nazi group known as Besseres Hannover, or Better Hannover.

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    In this June 23, 2010, file photo, a Twitter sign hangs at the offices of Twitter Inc., in San Francisco.
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Twitter has invoked its local censorship policy for the first time, blocking the feed of a German Neo-Nazi group known as Besseres Hannover, or Better Hannover. According to the Associated Press, the ban came after authorities in Lower Saxony ordered "the closure of all user accounts of the Besseres Hannover group," including YouTube and Twitter. 

"We announced the ability to withhold content back in January," Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray said in a tweet earlier today. "We're using it now for the first time re: a group deemed illegal in Germany."

In a separate tweet, he posted a link to Twitter's "Country-Withheld Content" policy, and wrote that Twitter "never [wants] to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently." 

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That policy stipulates that Twitter will attempt to balance the free speech of its users with local legal concerns. From the Twitter Website: 

Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify affected users unless we believe we are legally prohibited from doing so (for example, if we receive an order under seal). We also clearly indicate within the product when content has been withheld. And, we have expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to publish not only DMCA notifications but also requests to withhold content – unless, similar to our practice of notifying users, we are legally prohibited from doing so.

Still, many critics have questioned the wisdom of Twitter's actions.

"Bad move if you ask me," wrote one Twitter user. "Censorship is a slippery slope," wrote another. 

But Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a kind of ACLU for digital rights, said that in this case, Twitter did the right thing. 

"Twitter is being pilloried for being honest about something that all Internet platforms have to wrestle with," she told CBS News. "As long as this censorship happens in a secret way, we're all losers."

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