Twitter's Censorship Is Incredibly Easy To Circumvent. Here's How.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 18 2012 2:36 PM

Twitter's Censorship Is Incredibly Easy To Circumvent. Here's How.

Withheld account on Twitter
To comply with a request from the German government, Twitter has blocked a neo-Nazi group's account for German users—unless you change your country settings.

Screenshot / Twitter

Twitter's censorship policy, which it is enforcing today for the first time in response to the German government's request that it ban a neo-Nazi group, comes with a big loophole: Just tell Twitter you're not from Germany.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The policy allows Twitter to block tweets only in one country, so that it can comply with that country's laws while still allowing the censored parties go get their message out beyond its borders. Several blogs, including The Next Web, pointed out the apparent ease of getting around this when the Twitter first announced the policy in January. Included in Twitter's explanation of the policy was this hint:

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Screenshot / Twitter

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Clicking on the "Country Setting" link brings up these helpful instructions:

If we have incorrectly identified your country, here's how to correct it: 
1. Sign in to your Twitter account.
2. Visit your Account settings.
3. Select the correct country from the drop-down. If your country is not available, please select Worldwide.
4. Click Save.

Sure enough, I tried changing my country setting to "Germany" today, and tweets from "Besseres Hannover" immediately became inaccessible. Then I switched back to "United States," and they reappeared. Twitter officials won't comment on whether this easy workaround is intentional, but it's hard to imagine it's an accident. So, Germans, if you're reallly determined to see what your local neo-Nazis have to say, you can. But if you'd rather not be subjected to it, you won't. All in all, not such a bad solution, given that the alternative is for Twitter to stay out of countries like Germany altogether or risk being shut down.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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