When should a transnational social-media company respect the laws of the land and when should they ignore them?
Twitter's general counsel Alex Macgillivray tweeted last night that the company had taken action to block access to the tweets of @hannoverticker, the twitter account of white-supremacist group Besseres Hannover (Better Hannover), from within Germany. This is the first such action under a system outlined last January which gave Twitter the ability to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis. At the time, Twitter theorized this exact sort of situation as the basis for its plan, saying, "As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content."
The tweets remain visible to users elsewhere in the world. For people in Germany, in place of @hannoverticker's tweets, something like this appears in their streams, with the relevant information filled in:
As far as censorship goes, this is a pretty careful variety. It's transparent, making sure users see the censorship where the tweet would be. It limited, turning off the light in Germany but leaving the account active and viewable from abroad. It's well explained, as Twitter has posted a copy of the take-down request it received from Hannover's police on the site chillingeffects.org. And, most significant, it is designed to comply with a valid legal order from an office of a democratically elected government.