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Twitter accused of censoring French president parodies

A digital rights group in France has criticised Twitter after operators of the micro-blogging site suspended accounts the group said parodied the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.21 Feb 2012

Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders) said Twitter was guilty of "obvious censorship" because the accounts it suspended had been established in line with Twitter's own rules.

The campaigners said the account '@_ nicolassarkozy' was one of four suspended by Twitter after Sarkozy had registered his own official account last week. The group said '@mafranceforte'; '@fortefrance' and '@SarkozyCaSuffit' were the other three accounts that had been suspended since then. 'Forte France' means 'Strong France' and is the slogan Sarkozy has used in his re-election campaign, whilst 'Sarkozy Ca Suffit' translates as 'Sarkozy, that's enough' in English. Presidential elections in France are due to take place in April.

Twitter prohibits people impersonating others by "pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive" and state that "accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead may be permanently suspended," according to its policy on impersonation.

However, Twitter does permit users to operate accounts that parody, provide a commentary on others, or are set up as fan accounts, providing they do not "mislead or deceive others".

Twitter guidelines have suggested that, in order to avoid breaching its rules on impersonation, account holders should not use a username or name that is the "exact name of the subject of the parody, commentary, or fandom". Users should also label the account in a way that indicates it is not the real person, it said.

The guidelines also state that the account biography "should include a statement to distinguish it from the real identity" and that users should not "through private or public communication with other users, try to deceive or mislead others about your identity".

"The creation of an official account of Nicolas Sarkozy on this space should in no way mean killing all of twitter accounts that criticize, or parody the campaign or the person of President of the Republic," Internet Without Borders said in a statement.

The group said that the operator of the '_@nicolassarkozy' had been parodying Sarkozy through the account since September 2010 and that his "parodic character was unequivocal". This was because the user had included a statement on the account that explained that it was being operated in parody, it said.

Internet Without Borders said that the other accounts had "criticised or mocked" Sarkozy's campaign but should have been allowed to do so under Twitter's rules.

"These accounts did not include the name of Nicolas Sarkozy but criticized or mocked his campaign. For Internet Without Borders, this is an unacceptable censorship, in violation of the same general conditions of use of Twitter that grant the user a right on his content," the group said.

The operator of the '_@nicolassarkozy' account, published the suspension notification sent by Twitter. It said: "We have received a valid report that your account, @_NicolasSarkozy, is engaged in non-parody impersonation. Although Twitter firmly believes in the freedom of expression, impersonation that misleads, confuses, or deceives others is against the Twitter Rules (http://twitter.com/rules). Your account has been temporarily suspended due to violation of our impersonation policy," according to the French publisher's report.

Twitter enables well known people to "verify" their identity and obtain a certified 'badge' on their accounts to help distinguish them as authentic. Account holders can also complain about impersonators to Twitter.

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