Twitter reports record number of takedown requests from governments

It's the largest increase since the website started publishing transparency reports.

Illustration by Koren Shadmi

Twitter has received the highest number of content removal demands from governments around the world from January to June 2021, the website has revealed in its latest transparency report. To be precise, it received 43,387 legal demands that involve 196,878 accounts. Twitter says those numbers represent the largest increase in content removal requests and accounts reported within a six-month reporting period from the time it started publishing transparency reports in 2012.

One factor that contributed to the spike in accounts reported is the legal demands submitted by Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The agency flagged 102,363 accounts for posting sexual services and illegal adult content, and Twitter took action on 18,570 of them. Twitter also saw an increase in accounts withheld from the public due to content that allegedly violated Russia's laws against inciting suicide.

Last year, Russian News Agency Tass reported that the country's internet authorities threatened to block Twitter if it doesn't remove "suicide incitement aimed at minors, child pornography, as well as information about the use of drugs" on its website. The authorities also slowed down Twitter's loading speeds for desktop and mobile.

A total of 95 percent of the total global volume of legal demands came from five countries in particular, with Japan remaining as the top requester. Japan is responsible for 43 percent of the legal demands Twitter received, with most of them being about narcotics and drug-related posts, obscenity and financial-related crimes. The other four countries are Russia, Turkey, India and South Korea, in that order.

Based on Twitter's report, there's an upward trend in the number of legal demands Twitter gets, with a huge spike happening in the first half of 2020. It remains to be seen whether those numbers will keep on rising, but Twitter's VP of global public policy Sinead McSweeney expressed her concerns in a statement: "We're facing unprecedented challenges as governments around the world increasingly attempt to intervene and remove content. This threat to privacy and freedom of expression is a deeply worrying trend that requires our full attention."