Twitter Faces Criminal Complaint Over Hate-Speech Hashtags in France

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo

CEO Dick Costolo is named in a $50 million suit claiming the microblogging service has made no effort to hand over user data as ordered by French courts.

PARIS – Twitter has been hit with a $50 million (€38 million) criminal suit in the latest stage of a legal battle over a series of hate-speech hashtags in France.  

The company is being charged with failing to comply with a Jan. 24 ruling to hand over the identifying information of France-based users who participated in a series of anti-Semitic and racist trending topics during several days in October. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo also is named in the suit.

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The French Jewish Student Union (UEJF) and anti-racism organization J’Accuse/International Action for Justice (AIPJ) are seeking $50 million (€38 million), an amount the groups say they will donate to the Shoah Memorial Fund. UEJF has repeatedly sought to get the California-based tech company to reveal personal details of French users who have violated the country's strict anti-hate speech laws.

The filing follows a monthslong fight over incendiary hashtags here. In October, after the hashtag #AGoodJew resulted in posts such as “a good Jew is a dead Jew” and spawned several copycat topics such as #ADeadJew, the UEJF requested that Twitter release identifying information of France-based users so that they could be prosecuted under anti-hate speech laws. The UEJF and Twitter entered into negotiations aimed at staving off legal action. Twitter agreed to remove the offending France-based tweets but refused to turn over the requested user information.

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The UEJF quickly filed a suit to force Twitter to hand over the information, and a ruling in favor of the group was handed down Jan. 24. At the time, Twitter was given two weeks to comply or face fines of $1,300 (€1,000) per day. Twitter said it would review the decision but has made no move to hand over the data. 

On Wednesday night, French President Francois Hollande discussed the case at a dinner hosted by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), stating that he believed the posters should be revealed and charged. “They must know that they will be prosecuted and punished for their actions,” he said.

Twitter now has 15 days to respond to the criminal complaint and indicated late Thursday it will appeal the Jan. 24 decision. The company has maintained that it will not hand over the user information unless ordered to do so by a U.S. court.