29 June 2019
by: Eline Jeanné
Recently there has been more talk about ‘geoblocking’ on social media platforms, and the implications of it. But what exactly is it? You might have heard of the term geoblocking in reference to online video streaming services. It’s the reason why you can’t watch BBC iPlayer content outside of the UK, and why you can watch Gavin & Stacey on Netflix in the UK, but not in the US. Website administrators use your computer IP address to determine which country you are in, and which content you can access. For streaming sites, this is a way to manage licensing rights limitations.
Social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube also use geoblocking methods to block certain content in specific countries. Twitter refers to geoblocked content as ‘country withheld content’. They state that content may be withheld if “we [Twitter] receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity,” detailing that “such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local law(s).”Germany is one country in which social media platforms such as Twitter have geoblocked content to avoid violating local laws. This is largely due to the German Network Enforcement Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz), a law which requires social network providers to delete unlawful content within a short timeframe. This applies to any content which is illegal under German law. One example of this is Holocaust denial, which is deemed illegal under German law. This means that through the Network Enforcement Act, Germany requires such content to be removed or blocked within the country. A large portion of the geoblocked content in Germany on Twitter is related to Nazi and white nationalist ideology.
But what about Twitter’s own policies and code of practice? All users of the platform agree to the terms and conditions set by Twitter, and thus these policies should be applied universally, not a country-specific basis. Twitter’s hateful conduct policystates they prohibit content which “References to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence where protected groups have been the primary targets or victims”, “Inciting fear about a protected category” and “Repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.” The policy is clear; however, its implementation is less so.
In order to demonstrate the practice of geoblocking and how it lacks effectiveness on the Twitter platform as a whole, I used a VPN to change my IP address to see which content is blocked in certain countries, but not others. I decided to focus on Germany, due to its strict enforcement of the Network Enforcement Act. The following Twitter accounts are geoblocked in Germany, but public elsewhere. The accounts display hateful content which goes against Twitter’s hateful conduct policy; however, the content is still available outside Germany.
The account @FullGoy has been withheld in Germany and France. The account has been inactive recently, last having tweeted on February 22nd, 2018, but there are still 2756 tweets available to view on the account. This inactivity may be due to Twitter suspending @FullGoy from using his account; however, their Tweets are still public and include much antisemitic content, including Holocaust denial and glorification. The public content includes images comparing current powerful figures to drawing of Jewish caricatures (often taken from Nazi propaganda), a list of events which ‘prove’ worldwide Jewish subversion, content praising Hitler and his regime, and several posts claiming that children are being forced to learn about the ‘fake’ Holocaust. One of @FullGoy’s posts directly states: “Do I believe 6,000,000 Jews were gassed and cremates? LOL NO! The ‘Holocaust is complete rubbish, as a little logic will demonstrate.” All this content is in direct violation of Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, including their stance on hateful imagery. Yet, this content is public in all countries besides France and Germany.
The account @bluecherrot has been withheld in Germany. The account was last active on September 24th, 2017, likely due to a Twitter suspension. However, there are still 1431 Tweets publically available on the account, many of which are in clear violation of Twitter’s hateful conduct policy. The public content includes direct mention of the ‘Holohoax’, a term used by Revisionists who deny the Holocaust ever happened. Like the @FullGoy account, @bluecherrot has public content which claims that we are being not being told the truth about the Holocaust, and that children and being taught a lie. A lot of @bluecherrot’s public content focusses on praising Hitler and his ideology, and he uses hashtags such as #DeleteTheJew.
@AmyMek, @ds13_manon and @laudreport
Other accounts which are geoblocked in Germany include @AmyMek, @ds13_manon and @laudreport. The @AmyMek account is well known in far-right circles and has over 245,000 followers. Much of her content focuses on the far-right narrative that Islam is ‘taking over’ Europe and that European women and children are being ‘sacrificed’ at the hand of mass immigration. @AmyMek has been endorsed by Donald Trump through Twitter interactions. The @ds13_manon is public in Germany; however, her pinned Tweet is geoblocked in the country. This Tweet refers to the ‘invention’ of the 6 million figure related to the Holocaust victims. @laudreport regularly tweets about Islamic “worldwide domination” and uses terms such as the “never-ending Islam tsunami”. The account is geoblocked in Germany.
What we see is that geoblocking is not a solution to removing hate speech from a platform like Twitter. The content which has been geoblocked in Germany is in clear violation of Twitter’s own policies, so it begs the question: why is it still on the platform at all? The battle against hate speech is a universal and international one, and while geoblocking helps to protect people in certain countries from accessing and seeing hateful content, it does not combat the issue as a whole. Any content that violates Twitter’s hateful conduct policy should be swiftly removed from the platform, it should not depend on which country someone is viewing the content from. Geoblocking acts as a sticking plaster on the issue of hateful content on Twitter: it appeases local governments without truly tackling the issue.
The accounts discussed in this article have been reported to Twitter. As we publish this piece, the hateful content is still online as Twitter has decided not to remove it.