A French court ruled today that Twitter must identify its racist tweeters in France so they can be prosecuted, a decision that the social networking company is still evaluating.
This decision only applies to Twitter users in France, and it follows a slew of anti-Semitic tweets that violate that country’s laws on hate speech. In France, a nation with strict laws against anti-Semitism, no one has ever faced legal action for racist tweets.
French ministers are also facing pressure from anti-discrimination groups in France. In October, the French Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) launched a petition alleging that it is too difficult to report and quickly remove offensive content.
The offending tweets used the hashtag #unbonjuif, which means “a good Jew” and was created to ridicule the Jewish community. Two others — #SiMonFilsEstGay (#Ifmysonwasgay) and #unbonmusulman (#agoodMuslim) — also surfaced in October. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, #unbonjuif was the third most tweeted subject in France on Oct. 10, and continued to be used for several days.
Twitter said today in a statement that “we are currently reviewing the court’s decision.” The company’s lawyer, Alexandra Neri argued, in October that Twitter’s data on users was collected and stocked in California and the French justice system would need to appeal to American judges to hand over this data. But the company agreed to delete the offensive tweets.
During the case, Twitter’s lawyers also made the case that there are numerous different methods to report or flag abusive posts.
Twitter is weighing its commitment to user expression with the potential damage that such objectionable tweets may inflict. It is already making steps by proactively removing terms like “swastika” from its trending topics list, and as AFP reports, it has deleted some of the anti-Semitic tweets from October. Among them:
Twitter’s official position is that it does not moderate content. But it can instantly remove potential child abuse and suspend accounts. Last year, in an unprecedented move, Twitter complied with a request by German authorities to block the account of a neo-Nazi group.
This case may test Twitter and other social networking site’s refusal to mediate content.