Twitter waded into potentially perilous territory on Thursday when it blocked users in Germany from access to the account of a neo-Nazi group that is banned by the government here.
The move was the first time that Twitter acted on a policy known as “country-withheld content,” announced in January, in which it will block an account at the request of a government. But the company cracked open the gates to a complex new era in which it will increasingly have to referee legal challenges to the deluge of posts that has made the site so popular.
The company said the goal was to balance freedom of expression with compliance with local laws. “Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently,” Alexander Macgillivray, the company’s chief lawyer, wrote on Twitter.
Those outside of Germany can read the Twitter feed for the neo-Nazi group Besseres Hannover here.
I don't believe that in 2012 Germany should be criminalizing hate speech, even from neo-Nazi organizations. These groups should be watched closely, but they have no chance of gaining much traction in a strong democratice republic. Democracy depends on free spreech - even speech that we hate.
Unfortunatlely, commitment to free speech seems to be eroding, even in the United States:
In the United States, where speech is given the most protection among Western countries, there has been a recent effort to carve out a potentially large category to which the First Amendment would not apply. While we have always prosecuted people who lie to achieve financial or other benefits, some argue that the government can outlaw any lie, regardless of whether the liar secured any economic gain.
The dangers are obvious. Government officials have long labeled whistleblowers, reporters and critics as “liars” who distort their actions or words. If the government can define what is a lie, it can define what is the truth.
It is about time that Germany stop criminalizing hate speech - even Holocaust-denial. It would make for a stronger democracy and a more open society. The idiocy of the neo-Nazis will become only more marginalized - instead of being martyred.
The very right that laid the foundation for Western civilization is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, if not a threat. Whether speech is deemed imflammatory or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.
As in a troubled marriage, the West seems to be falling out of love with free speech. Unable to divorce ourselves from this defining right, we take refuge instead in an awkward and forced silence.