French Court Demands Twitter Reveal User Information

Twitter Logo 2011

Twitter Logo 2011

A Jewish group hopes some users will be prosecuted after a series of anti-Semitic hashtags trended in recent months.

A French court ordered Twitter to reveal the user information of accounts that posted racist and anti-Semitic messages on the micro-blogging site so that they can be prosecuted under the country’s strict anti-hate speech laws.

The case was brought by France’s Jewish student union (UEJF) in October, and backed by 4 other prominent anti-discrimination groups, after a series of anti-Semitic hashtags were top trends for several days last fall. 

Following an uproar here after the hashtag #AGoodJew resulted in posts such as “a good Jew is a dead Jew,” the California-based company agreed to remove France-based tweets that were considered illegal under French law.  However, during discussions with UEJF, Twitter maintained that while it would remove offensive posts on a case-by-case basis, it would not monitor the hashtags or reveal the identities of its users unless ordered to do so by a US court. 

“If we are alerted to content that may be in violation of our terms of service, we will investigate each report and respond according to the policies and procedures outlined in our support pages,” a company spokesperson said at the time. Twitter’s current policy states that they are not responsible for user-generated content but will suspend accounts when ordered to do so through legal channels. 

Twitter established the current policy in 2011, after German authorities demanded the shutdown of pro-Nazi groups’ accounts in their country.

The court also ordered Twitter to create an “easily accessible and visible” system within the French platform that would allow users to alert the site to posts which “apologize for crimes against humanity or incite racial hatred.”

Other incendiary hashtags have also caused uproar here. After both #IfMySonWasGay and #IfMyDaughterBroughtHomeABlack resulted in violent and threatening messages in late December, government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem called on Twitter to monitor its content to comply with French law. 

“Twitter should find solutions so that messages sent from our country, in our language, and destined for our citizens do not violate the principles we have set,” she said at the time.

The company now has 15 days to comply with the ruling, after which it will be fined $1300 (€1000) per day.   Twitter’s official French office was only established in December, though it is a subsidiary of its Irish operations for tax purposes.  At the time, the company said it would be opening a fully-staffed Paris office this spring. 

After rebuffing a request for a meeting with Vallaud-Belkacem on Jan. 7, executives are now expected to meet with government officials here on Feb. 8. 

In an unrelated move on Jan. 23, the government’s official language approval office validated the word “mot-diese” as the French replacement for the commonly used English word “hashtag.” The General Commission on Terminology defined “mot-diese” (translated as “sharp word”) as “a series of characters preceded by the # symbol.”