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Did Twitter 'censor' accounts that parody France's Sarkozy?

A France-based digital-rights group says Twitter removed four Sarkozy-esque accounts after the French president opened his own account last week.

Twitter has come under fire from a French digital-rights group over claims it censored accounts that parodied the country's president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The trouble started last week when Sarkozy created his first Twitter account just hours before he announced plans to run for re-election. Afterward, according to the French digital-rights watchdog Internet Without Borders, Twitter censored four accounts that had been in existence for quite some time and that parodied Sarkozy.

Three of the accounts--@ForteFrance, @MaFranceForte, and @SarkozyCaSuffit--have been suspended as of this writing. The fourth, @_nicolassarkozy, is currently still accessible on Twitter but hasn't been updated since February 15, when Sarkozy created his official account.

Twitter's guidelines on parody accounts are clear. Users are allowed to create them, but they need to make it clear to the social network's users that they're not the real person. In its guidelines on parody accounts, Twitter says owners should use qualifiers, like "not," "fake," or "fan" in their usernames. In addition, the biography should indicate that it's not the real person. Violation of those guidelines will lead Twitter to suspend the accounts.

Interestingly, Twitter's impersonation policy says that it will investigate claims made only by the person being impersonated or "someone legally authorized to act on behalf of the user/entity." That could mean that Sarkozy or someone in his camp requested that the parody accounts be suspended.

That wrinkle is a concern for Internet Without Borders, which said in a blog post that the suspension of the accounts amounted to "political censorship" and that it is worried about "online freedom of expression in France."

The organization's complaints come less than a month after Twitter announced that it would remove tweets from its service if they violate local restrictions against content. The decision initiated widespread outcry among critics who said Twitter is censoring the Web.

It is not clear whether the suspended parody accounts were victims of that new policy.

Twitter did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on Internet Without Borders' claims.

(Via ZDNet UK)