Twitter rebuts Sarkozy censorship allegations

The social-networking site implies that the suspension of the accounts that belittled the French president disregarded the site's parody and spam rules.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
Official Nicolas Sarkozy Twitter account.
Fake Nicolas Sarkozy Twitter account.

Twitter accounts that were either critical or made fun of French President Nicolas Sarkozy were suspended this past week--causing some to cry censorship. Now Twitter has responded, be it indirectly, by implying that these accounts violated either its parody or spam policy.

This debacle began when Sarkozy created his first Twitter account last week and hours later announced that he was running for re-election. Shortly after, French digital-rights watchdog Internet Without Borders noticed that three accounts, @ForteFrance, @MaFranceForte, and @SarkozyCaSuffit, had been suspended and one account, @_nicolassarkozy, didn't have any new tweets since the president's announcement.

Without speaking directly to the controversy, Twitter explains the possible motives of the account suspensions were because these specific users were not following the micro-blogging site's guidelines.

"We don't comment on individual users for privacy reasons," said Twitter spokesperson Rachael Horwitz. However, she mentioned that the social-networking site did post information clarifying Twitter's policy on parody today on its French "Le Blog."

"Twitter is an integral part of political discourse throughout the world," reads an English translation of the blog post. "We understand and support the need for real-time dialogue on key issues between politicians and citizens-far be it from us to hinder this process."

"However, it is also necessary to protect the user experience by ensuring compliance with our rules," the post continues. "If they are not respected, we suspend accounts that violate them."

According to Twitter's rules on parody, commentary, and fan accounts, the user profile must be clearly distinguished from the real person's account. Ways to do this, suggests Twitter, are to use the words "not," "fake," or "fan" in the username, the bio should attest to being a parody, and all private and public communication must not be misleading or deceiving.

Of the four accounts under question, the same three remain suspended as of this writing, and @_nicolassarkozy is back in action as of yesterday under the new username "Nicolas Sarkozy Fake."

In order for a parody account to get suspended it must violate Twitter's parody rules and also have been reported to the social-networking site by the person whose identity was misused. According to tech news site The Next Web, Sarkozy's staff admitted to requesting some of the account suspensions.

One of Internet Without Borders concerns is that the three accounts that remain suspended were not necessarily parodies of Sarkozy but rather critical commentaries, which it says amounts to "political censorship." The group adds that three more accounts have been suspended this week--@dehorsSarkozy, @sarkozycestfini, and @sarkocensure.

To this matter, Twitter implies in its "Le Blog" post that these accounts were suspended for violating its spam policy. "We make use of automatic suspensions for violating the rules accounts listed under 'Spam' to Twitter Rules," reads the blog. "A suspended user can ask us at any time to cancel the suspension of his account. In most cases, a second chance to follow the rules will be granted."

"Our team is dedicated to promoting free expression constantly on Twitter, but also to help our users by applying our rules and treating all parties concerned on an equal footing."