Requests to Twitter for content removal rising sharply

By August 21, 2013
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Twitter’s latest Transparency Report points to a considerable increase in the number of official requests for content removal and account information.


In July 2012, following in Google’s footsteps, Twitter began to publish a twice-yearly Transparency Report giving details of its policy of content regulation and cooperation with governments. Reacting to the PRISM surveillance program scandal and in the wake of an increase in copyright infringement cases, Twitter is seeking to demonstrate that it continues to stand by its users. The report examines three types of request: requests for account information and content removal requests issued by governments, and requests for removal of tweets or other content following alleged copyright infringements. While the Google report only refers to requests emanating from governments, Twitter records an explosion in demand for content withdrawal with a view to protecting intellectual property.

Increase in copyright violation, and government intrusion

The two main types of request received, those emanating from governments on the one hand and private individuals or rights holders on the other, indicate a need for greater clarity on overall legislation regarding data privacy and intellectual property on the Internet. This is especially true in the United States, where the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the main piece of legislation on intellectual property in the digital world, leaves a great deal of room for interpretation by the rights holders. A total of5,753 copyright notices were received during the period, 61% of them leading to content removal: more than 18,000 tweets and 4,000 other types of content – videos, photos, etc. – were withdrawn. Requests for content removal by governments have also increased tenfold over the past year, with Brazil and the US topping the list, resulting in the removal of 73 tweets. In addition, the report points to an ongoing increase in the number of requests coming from the governments of India, Japan, the Netherlands and Russia. Finally, when it comes to requests for account information, the US government made over 902 requests during the period, relating to more than 1,300 accounts.

Twitter claims to stand by users in the face of government intrusion

Twitter acknowledges that it complies with the majority of such requests, having acquiesced in some 60% of US government demands during the period. The micro-blogging service provider is however determined to bolster its users’ trust. Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s Legal Policy Manager, announced on the company blog that Twitter is working actively with a number of civil liberty groups to press the US government to step up transparency regarding its surveillance system. Twitter also indicates how the company sometimes fights government requests for user data. For example, if a request does not identify a specific Twitter account, Twitter does not comply. Once again, if the request is overly broad, Twitter ‘may’ seek to narrow it. Lastly, the legal service sometimes notifies users before releasing their data, which gives them an opportunity to challenge the request. Such cases appear to be quite rare however, as only 19% of US data requests resulted in notifications to Twitter users.


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