For the first time, the messaging site Twitter has blocked a user account. Messages from the banned group "Better Hanover" can no longer be seen in Germany.
Where can a demonstration be held, where are police barricades located, when is a raid planned? In 140 characters, members of the banned neo-Nazi group "Better Hanover" exchanged their most important news using the messaging service Twitter. But that is now over.
For the first time in its history, Twitter has blocked the account of a user. Starting this week, the contents cannot be seen, at least in Germany. A new feature of the service makes this possible, Twitter spokesman Dirk Hensen told DW. It allows content that is illegal in a particular country to be removed, while it continues to remain visible to the rest of the world.
The Hanover police had asked Twitter to take this step after the group was banned by the Lower Saxony Interior Ministry for incitement and suspicion of forming a criminal organization. An email containing a xenophobic video sent to Aygül Özkan, Lower Saxony's Turkish-origin social welfare minister, may also have come from the group.
After the ban, blocking the account was the next logical step for the Lower Saxony Interior Ministry. "Better Hanover has been especially active on the Internet, where it has continued to incite. It was clear that its accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube would also have to be shut," Lower Saxony's Christian Democratic Interior Minister Uwe Schünemann said in an interview with DW.
"Propaganda for young people"
Social networks are popular communications platforms; Twitter alone has around four million users in Germany. Extremist groups have also recognized this, Schünemann said: "It is increasingly the case that they try to use social networks, especially to reach young people, and to promote their own propaganda." Neo-Nazis can use social networks anonymously and adopt the language of young people, he said.
Making contact has thereby become less complicated than it used to be, when neo-Nazis distributed CDs and leaflets in schoolyards. "It is also important that we point out dangers involved in schools." Schools are required to warn the youth against extremist propaganda and to teach the responsible use of social networks, he said. Schünemann believes it is possible that a Twitter ban can also be extended to other extremist groups. "But first the group must be banned, otherwise we are in a very difficult legal position," he said.
Media expert: Racism is not an opinion
Journalist Patrick Gensing has also dealt with online right-wing propaganda. He runs a blog critical of the activities of the neo-Nazi scene. In addition, he has published two books on the strategies of neo-Nazis. Gensing says the Twitter block is reasonable. "The blocking of Better Hanover's Twitter account is an action that harms this group, because as a result they will not as easily be able to make their actions public," Gensing told DW. Although it is theoretically possible for the group to open a new account, readers would then have to be alerted to the account, and that would take a lot of time.
"Overall, we can see that the online Nazis took refuge in social networks," Gensing said. It can be expensive for them to run their own websites, while illegal content can be detected more easily, he said. "You have to rent a server, you have to register the address. Therefore, there is a much higher risk for them to operate their own website than to be active in social networks."
Gensing does not consider the Twitter ban to be a restriction on freedom of expression. "For me, racism is not the opinion of many, but rather racism cannot be tolerated. That is why I think it is absolutely right to remove neo-Nazi content," he said.