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Satire magazine back on Twitter after ban

David Martin
January 6, 2018

German satirical news outlet Titanic has had its Twitter account reinstated after it was suspended for more than two days. Tweets parodying an AfD lawmaker were flagged and deleted under Germany's new "NetzDG" law.

Screenshot Twitter Titanic feat. Alice Weidel
Image: Twitter/@titanic

The Twitter account of Titanic, a German satirical magazine, went back online Friday after it had been suspended for more than 48 hours for violating hate speech rules.

In a press statement, Titanic's chief editor Tim Wolff said he was glad that Twitter had settled the issue "so bureaucratically and slowly," and that the paper would again have "the chance to take Twitter to task from our own account."

Titanic's account was suspended on Tuesday for a series of tweets by an imagined Beatrix von Storch, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party — shortly after the politician was suspended from Twitter. "Her" tweets from Titanic included a joke about watching the world darts championship final on Monday night: "White men getting drunk and shooting stuff, a last bastion of our Germanic traditions."

Read more: Germany's populist AfD seeks to turn online 'censorship' to its advantage

However, "von Storch's" harsher tweets concerning Muslims were flagged as violating Twitter's terms and were swiftly deleted by the microblogging site, despite being clearly satire.

Wolff said the paper would defend itself against this and any future suspensions, adding that Germany's new laws and regulations for publishing online content risked undermining satire.

AfD's von Storch suspended

The stunt parodied a tweet von Storch had written earlier in the week directed at Cologne police. The Cologne police force tweeted New Year's greetings and linked to safety advice in a series of messages in German and other languages, including Arabic.

The AfD lawmaker responded to the tweet, posting: "What the hell is happening in this country? Why is an official police site tweeting in Arabic? Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?"

Cologne was the scene two years ago of mass sexual assaults on New Year's Eve. Most of the suspects were described as young men of North African and Arab origin. Von Storch was subsequently informed that she had violated Twitter's hate speech laws and her account was suspended for 12 hours.

Freedom of expression concerns surround 'NetzDG' law

Both instances challenged Germany's new "NetzDG" law, which came into force on January 1.

Under the law, websites such as Facebook and Twitter must quickly review and, if necessary, delete any flagged content. Any content found to be "evidently illegal" must be removed within 24 hours, while less clear-cut cases must be resolved within a week. Failure to do so can see the site in question slapped with particularly steep fines.

German MP under fire for anti-Muslim tweets – DW's Michaela Küfner and Marina Strauss

This week's debacle saw both the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) and the AfD accuse the new law of stoking censorship. Sites like Twitter will "in an uncertain scenario opt against freedom of expression" to avoid a financial fine, said BDZV Managing Director Dietmar Wolff.

However, Germany's Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, the architect of NetzDG, defended the controversial law. Speaking to German daily Bild, he said that "calls to commit homicide, threats and insults, sedition or Holocaust denial were not exercising freedom of expression, but attacking the freedom of expression of others."

In the meantime, Titanic's new "guest tweeter" was Alexander Dobrindt, a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union and former Minister for Transport. In picking Dobrindt, who had just published his seven guidelines for a "conservative revolution" in German weekly Die Zeit, Titanic appeared to choose as conservative a politician as they could find who wasn't affiliated with the AfD.

On Friday, "he" admitted on Titanic's Twitter that he was high on drugs during a television interview this week.

Read more: Fighting hate on the Net

Twitter offers (some) clarity

Also on Friday, Twitter released a statement explaining why accounts belonging to prominent world leaders would enjoy a special status and less likely be banned or suspended.

In a post on its corporate blog, the social network said: "Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate."

The remarks came amid calls that US President Donald Trump's account be blocked for violating the microblogging site's ban on violent threats. The debate of Trump's use of social media came to the fore once again on Wednesday, after he tweeted that he had a "much bigger" and "more powerful" nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Last month, Twitter vowed to impose new rules aimed at combating "hateful" and "abusive" content, such as messages promoting violence. That policy came on the back of global public pressure, and is separate from Germany's NetzDG law.

Berlin pensioner cleans up hate speech

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