In a decision made Thursday afternoon, a French judge has sided with a Jewish student group and ordered American-based Twitter to identify users sending anti-Semitic tweets and other forms of hate speech over the company’s online social networking service.
The order also establishes a system by which registered users can alert authorities as to “illicit content” generated on the website in hopes of prosecuting users under French anti-hate speech laws.
The Paris court ordered Twitter to turn over to lawyers for the French Jewish Students’ Union (UEJF) information about users who sent anti-Semitic tweets last year under the hashtag #unbonJuif (a good Jew). In October the racially-charge hashtag was the third most popular tweet on French Twitter.
The case against Twitter was launched last October when the UEJF filed a lawsuit, aligning itself with the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France and the lobbying group, SOS Racisme, hours after Twitter blocked users in Germany from access to the account of a banned neo-Nazi group. Agreeing to block access to the account was the first time the company had acted on a policy known as “country-withheld content,” which blocks accounts at the request of a government.
Regulating content sets up a precarious scenario between user privacy, freedom of expression and the protection of fundamental human rights. It also raises questions as to other hate message trends on the site. A year ago Twitter set filters for various countries, posting on its January 2012 blog:
'Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country – while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.'
In the case of the banned neo-Nazi group, only users in Germany are currently blocked from the anti-Semitic content. Users see the message 'Blocked' and 'This account has been withheld in Germany,' when attempting to access the site.
The tweets included photos about the Holocaust and other racist jokes about Jews. In an apparent reference to Nazi crematoriums, one tweet was accompanied by a photograph showing a pan full of dust.
The decision has already spawned a new wave of anti-semitic messages, many now directed against the students’ union. According to today’s Times of Israel, hundreds of users posted the phrase “a dead Jew” as protest following the removal of the anti-Semitic content..
Whether or not the French court has jurisdiction over a U.S. company with no offices or personnel in France has yet to be determined. For now, the company faces possible fines of up to 1000 euros a day if it does not comply with the ruling within 14 days.
Interested in this article? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the "Subscribe" button above.