Twitter receives record number of gov’t requests to remove posts

Ninety-five percent of demands in January-June 2021 came from five countries – Japan, Russia, Turkey, India and S Korea.

The Twitter app logo is seen on a phone screen.
The platform says governments made 43,387 legal demands for the removal of content in the first half of 2021 [Thomas White/Reuters]

Twitter has said governments made requests to remove content from a record number of accounts between January and June last year, with 95 percent of the demands coming from five countries.

The social media platform said on Tuesday that 43,387 legal demands for the removal of content from 196,878 accounts were made in the six months, the largest number of such requests in a reporting period since it started releasing transparency reports in 2012.

Most came from Japan, followed by Russia, Turkey, India and South Korea. The site is blocked in several countries, including China and North Korea.

“We’re facing unprecedented challenges as governments around the world increasingly attempt to intervene and remove content,” Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s vice president of global public policy and philanthropy, said in a statement.

“This threat to privacy and freedom of expression is a deeply worrying trend that requires our full attention.”

Twitter said it either “withheld” access to content in certain countries or required account holders to remove some or all of the reported content in response to 54 percent of the global legal demands in this period.

Non-government requests

Japan, Brazil and the United States were the top three requesting countries when it comes to non-government requests, with all three accounting for 89 percent of all requests and 87 percent of the total accounts specified for this period.

These requests come from third parties seeking account information from Twitter, for example, as non-parties in a civil action, or on behalf of defendants in criminal cases.

Social media giants face ongoing scrutiny from global governments and regulators over the material they allow on their platforms. In the past year, Twitter has faced high-profile tussles with governments from India to Nigeria over content moderation and regulation.

Twitter has also, along with companies like Facebook and Google, faced criticism in the US and other countries over how it combats issues like misinformation and violent rhetoric on its platform.

The number of accounts specified in the legal requests was up almost 50 percent from 131,933 accounts from the previous six months, according to Twitter data.

The number of government removal requests increased 14 percent from 38,524 in the last reporting period, July-December 2020, and was up about 2.8 percent year-over-year, Twitter said.

The company said in July 2021 it had seen a surge in government demands worldwide in 2020 to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets, but it said the number of such accounts subject to these requests decreased 14 percent in the latest reporting period.

The report also said requests from governments for Twitter to preserve account information were down by about 4 percent from the previous reporting period. It said the US accounted for about 57 percent of these requests and the country was also the single largest source of government information requests.

Government entities request to preserve account information from Twitter to temporarily save information pertaining to an investigation. These requests give authorities time needed to get the valid legal process, such as a search warrant, required to lawfully obtain that saved information.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies