Twitter Has Started Blocking Porn in Germany

Twitter has been blocking the profiles of adult content creators in Germany since late 2020, with at least 60 accounts affected to date. The move comes in response to a series of legal orders by German regulators that have ruled that online pornography should not be visible to children and must be hidden behind age-verification systems. The nationwide block of certain profiles in Germany is a rare example of a major social media platform bowing to regulatory pressure to make it harder for children to view porn online.

Anyone trying to view one of the blocked accounts in Germany sees a message saying it has been “withheld” in Germany “in response to a legal demand.” The exact number of accounts blocked in this way is unknown. One pornographic account displaying this message has more than 700,000 followers. As Twitter doesn’t have an age-verification system in place, it has responded to legal demands by outright blocking the accounts for anyone in Germany. Under German law, regulators say, Twitter accounts posting pornographic content should not be accessible as there are no age-checks in place to make sure that people viewing them are over the age of 18.

The legal orders sent to Twitter are part of a larger crackdown on porn in Germany. In July 2021, regulators threatened to block xHamster, one of the world’s biggest porn sites. Legal proceedings are also underway against YouPorn, Pornhub, and MyDirtyHobby, which are all owned by MindGeek.

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“Porn on social media is a problem,” says Marc Jan Eumann, the chairman of the Kommission für Jugendmedienschutz, the Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media, or KJM, which regulates child safety issues in Germany. The KJM first complained about Twitter profiles in September 2020. Eumann says that while it’s important everyone has “freedom of expression” online, it is “obviously unlawful” to distribute pornography without age-verification systems in place. “We are looking for dialog with these companies,” Eumann says. “Twitter, for example, blocked porn profiles for German users after we instigated legal proceedings. We were actually the first authority in Europe to do so and we will continue.”

Twitter’s response to the German legal request has been to effectively vanish dozens of profiles for millions of people. Anyone viewing a blocked profile will be unable to see the profile picture, bio, or any posts; if another account has retweeted it, these posts are also blocked. A notice from Twitter directs people to its explanation of why accounts are withheld in certain countries—the same message is included on all accounts blocked at the request of governments.

But critics have argued that the German approach seems scattergun and that it lacks transparency. There are thousands of Twitter accounts that post adult content, and those the KJM has reported to Twitter appear to have large followings or are subject to individual complaints.

The social network’s rules on pornography, which are grouped under sensitive content, require accounts posting adult content to mark their profiles as sensitive. Adult content is restricted for people who don’t include a birthdate on their profiles or are under 18. Twitter also warns people before they click on pornographic material. As Twitter doesn’t have a proper age-verification system, something that is required by German law, it has seemingly felt it has no option other than to outright block certain profiles. Twitter declined to comment on the German blocks and the issue of age-verification systems.

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