"Censorship Incidents on Twitter" were on Wednesday on the agenda of the Digital Committee of the Bundestag. The reason was the number of account closures by the US company for alleged "misleading" in relation to the European elections. The should explain a representative of the company in a non-public hearing. After almost an hour and a half, the committee members were not completely satisfied, but enriched by some notable findings.
Like YouTube and Facebook, Twitter is under public pressure - especially from the EU Commission - to take effective measures against attempted election influence. Therefore, in April, Twitter published a "Policy on Integrity of Elections" and has since explicitly prohibited "posting or sharing content that adversely affects turnout or misrepresents the date, place, or timing of an election." It applies to all EU countries.
But then temporarily blocked Twitter and referring to this directive, among other things, the accounts of the "Jewish General", the Berlin Secretary of State Sawsan Chebli, the writer Tom Hillenbrand, the Berlin SPD MEP Sven Kohl Meier, a state election candidate of the Greens from Dresden, the Lower Saxony State Association of the PARTY and several lawyers. In the process, corresponding tweets of those affected were clearly not a serious attempt to influence the European elections. Some had nothing to do with the choice at all.
A winky smiley is not enough to show irony
Nina Morschhäuser - official job title: Head of Public Policy, Government and Philanthropy at Twitter Germany - should explain that. She acknowledged participants in the meeting that Twitter had made mistakes and apologized. The decision as to whether an account is temporarily suspended always hits a human being. The corresponding employees, distributed to locations around the world, should now be trained.
Satire, she said, will continue to block if she contains false information about the electoral process. For example, anyone who writes "Do not forget the signature under the ballot on Election Day" must expect sanctions, whether he is a "Titanic" editor or a winker smiley on the tweet. Not quite consistent were the statements of deputies, whether or not there are exceptions to this rule for marked spoof accounts.
One could therefore assume Twitter that it considers its users unable to understand irony or context. But apparently - it is quite understandable - the company is more important not to be considered a manipulation platform.
Ten times more reports in Germany than anywhere else
The deputies also wanted to know if Twitter could detect a pattern behind the user messages, with which the company is first made aware of allegedly inadmissible tweets. Background is the thesis that rights have been organized on Twitter to selectively account specific accounts or tweets of politically rather left users until they are blocked.
According to Morschhäuser, however, Twitter can not judge the attitude of its users. However, the company has found that there are ten times as many reports in Germany about supposedly misleading information on elections than in other EU countries. This definitely speaks for a certain degree of organization of the reporters.
The SPD MEP Saskia Esken told the SPIEGEL that they consider the account closures "for a serious interference in the freedom of expression." If she were to be banned, this would be detrimental to her ability to work. She believes that Twitter should choose other sanctioning agents, and argues whether there should be at least better opposition and complaint channels for those affected by account closures because of the special position of Twitter and other social networks in public political discourse.
Several committee members hinted that they had further questions. They will hand them in writing - and they expect written responses from Twitter.