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Governments Stepping up Demands on Twitter to Remove News Content

Ross Kelly

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Twitter Transparency Report
The vast majority of legal demands originated from just five countries, Twitter revealed.

Twitter has experienced increased government demands to remove content published by journalists and news outlets, according to the firm’s latest transparency report.

From 1st July to 31st December 2020, Twitter revealed that 199 verified journalist and news outlet accounts were subject to 361 legal demands over content circulated on the platform.

This, the transparency report shows, marks a 26% increase in removal requests compared to the first half of 2020.

In total, Twitter received more than 38,500 legal demands to take down content in the latter half of 2020. Of these, the firm said it complied with 29% of the requests.

“Although there was a 9% decrease in the number of legal demands Twitter received, compared to the previous reporting period, these requests sought removal of content from the largest number of accounts ever in a single reporting period,” Twitter said in a statement online.

Notably, 94% of the total global volume of legal demands originated from just five countries, the social media firm said. These included Japan, India, Russia, Turkey and South Korea.

Rising tensions

The Twitter transparency report also details the volume and source of information requests from governments around the world.

According to Twitter, government information requests “include both emergency and routine legal demands for account information”.

These requests, the social media firm notes, are often issued by law enforcement or other government agencies.

According to the report, India is the largest source of government information requests and accounts for 25% of total global volume. Meanwhile, the United States submitted the second highest volume of information requests.

Tensions between Twitter and Indian authorities have increased since the introduction of new IT legislation.

New rules introduced in May require social media firms to appoint dedicated staff to liaise with local authorities and deal with user grievances.

Twitter unveiled the appointment of a resident grievance officer and chief compliance officer this week.


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The publication of Twitter’s latest transparency report follows several days of scrutiny on how social media firms moderate abusive and hateful content on their platforms.

In the wake of the Euro 2020 final, which saw several England players racially abused online, the UK Government has criticised social media firms such as Twitter and Facebook for an apparent failure to act.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on firms to do more to address the issue, while on Monday Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden claimed the government could use powers from the proposed Online Safety Bill to penalise platforms.

With regard to abuse and harassment, Twitter said it has launched a number of new initiatives, such as the introduction of “more precise” machine learning aimed at detecting and acting on content that violated its policies.

“We continue to step up the level of proactive enforcement across the service and invest in technological solutions to respond to ever-evolving malicious online activity,” the firm said.

“Today, by using technology, more than 65% of abusive content is surfaced proactively for human review, instead of relying on reports from people using Twitter.”

Hateful conduct

Across the latter half of 2020, Twitter said there was a 77% increase in the number of accounts actioned for violations of its hateful conduct policy. In total, more than 1.1 million accounts were actioned.

In September last year, Twitter began enforcing its hateful conduct policy against content or accounts that incite fear or stereotypes about protected categories.

The firm’s decision to do so was prompted by an increase in harassment against minority groups during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite various initiatives to curb hateful conduct and abuse, many argue that efforts by social media firms are falling flat.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told DIGIT that people are becoming “fed up with Big Tech and their grand promises of action against hateful content”.

“The outpouring of racism since the Euro 2020 final has thrust this issue onto the front pages, but social media companies have been fostering a culture of impunity for more than a decade – simply because inaction is more profitable,” he commented.

“The only way we’ll avoid a repeat of the past week is if the Government passes effective legislation which would require social media companies to enforce their own terms and conditions, and finally make their platforms places where people can exist without facing abuse on a daily basis,” Ahmed added.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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