US returns to top position as Twitter's biggest data requester globally

During the January to June 2021 period, Twitter received the largest number of accounts subject to legal removal requests ever.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Government information data requests for Twitter and Periscope account information between January to June 2021.

Image: Twitter

The United States was the single largest source of government information requests during the six months period ending 30 June 2021, according to Twitter's latest transparency report.

Twitter said throughout the reporting period, it received a total of 12,400 data requests from governments, with 26,200 accounts specified, from 98 different countries since 2012, including South Africa and the State of Palestine, which appeared in the report for the first time. On a year-on-year basis, there was a 15% decline in global government information requests and 49% decrease in accounts specified, but a 21% uptick in compliance rate.

Of that total, the US made 3,026 requests, accounting for 24% of global volume and 27% of all accounts specified from around the world. Twitter said it complied, in whole or in part, with 68% of the information requests made by the US government. Specifically, the top requesting agencies were the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, US Department of Justice, and US Secret Service. These numbers returned the US back to the top global requester list after it fell to second place in the year prior.

The second highest volume of government requests originated from India, compromising 18% of global information requests and 30% of the global accounts specified. Twitter received nearly 1,500 fewer requests from India, while the number of accounts specified decreased by 217 during this reporting period.

Japan and France rounded out the top four countries. Combined, the top four made up three-quarters of all global government information requests during the six months. Twitter noted it was the third report in a row where these countries represented the top four global requesters in varying orders.

Twitter added it partially disclosed or did not disclose information in response to 64% of global government information requests, a decrease of 9% compared to the last reporting period.

When it came to non-government information requests, the social media giant reported receiving requests from 35 different countries since 2014, including for the first time Argentina, Israel, and Switzerland.

"These typically include civil actions, such as divorce proceedings, as well as requests made by criminal defendants, where they are typically seeking information in support of their legal defence," Twitter said.

Japan, Brazil, and the US made up the top three, with all three accounting for 89% of all 460 total non-government requests it received and 87% of the total 1,100 accounts specified during the period.

In terms of legal demands from governments in the six-month period, Twitter said it received 43,387 legal demands to remove content, specifying 196,878 accounts.

"This is the largest number of accounts ever subject to removal requests in a reporting period since releasing our first transparency report in 2012," Twitter said.

It attributed the spike to two legal demands that were submitted by Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

"The Indonesian government claimed violations of their local law pertaining to sexual services and illegal adult content in 102,363 accounts. Upon investigation, Twitter took action on 18,570 accounts for violations to the illegal or certain regulated goods or services, Sensitive media, non-consensual nudity, and child sexual exploitation policies, meanwhile, the remaining reported materials were compliant to Twitter rules," Twitter said.

"Other increases were seen in the accounts and tweets withheld. The spike in Tweets withheld was partly due to content reported by Russia that was alleged to violate local laws against suicide promotion.

"Over 52% of all withheld tweets in this reporting period involved content connected to suicide promotion in Russia. The spike in accounts withheld was particularly the result of Twitter's compliance of an Indian blocking order issued under India's Information Technology Act 2000."

Of the total global volume of legal demands, 95% originated from five countries. Japan led the pack accounting for 43% of all global requests receiving. 93% of requests from Japan were primarily related to laws regarding narcotics and drug control, obscenity, or financial-related crimes, Twitter said.

The next highest volume of legal demands came from Russia, comprising 25% of global legal demands and representing a 56% increase from the number of requests they submitted during the previous reporting period. Twitter said 71% of Russian requests pertained to Russian laws prohibiting the promotion of suicide.

Turkey accounted for 13% of global legal demands, showing a 30% increase of requests compared to the previous reporting period, making it the third-largest requester. India made up 11% of global legal demands, down from 18% a year ago, while South Korea remained in fifth position, making up 5% of all global legal demands.

The latest transparency report also showed Twitter required account holders to remove 4.7 million tweets that violated the platform's rules, permanently suspended 453,754 unique accounts for violation of its child sexual exploitation policy, and suspended close to 45,000 unique accounts for promoting terrorism and violent organisations.

When it came to COVID-19 misinformation specifically, in December 2021 alone, Twitter challenged 3,515 accounts, suspended 666 accounts, and removed just over 4,500 pieces of content globally.

"Broadly, Twitter continues to see an overall downward trend in the number of violating accounts which is likely due to changing behaviours of these actors coupled with continued improvements of our defences in this area," Twitter reported.

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