Twitter has lost an appeal in France to avoid disclosing the identities of people behind anti-Semitic hashtags that appeared and trended last year. Among them were #unjuifmort, which translates “a dead Jew,” and “unbonjuif” (“a good Jew”), which became a source of jokes about The Holocaust and killing Jews.
Anti-Semitism is currently on the rise throughout Europe.
The Union of Jewish French Students (UEJF) and other human-rights groups sought disclosure of the identities of those behind the hashtags. Twitter refused, though it removed some of the more outrageous content.
In January, a civil court in France ordered Twitter to disclose the identities behind the hashtags. Twitter largely ignored the ruling. The company argued it was following US law, which allows offensive speech under the First Amendment. However, France has much more restrictive rules around racist and hate speech.
The UEJF then sued Twitter for $50 million seeking to force Twitter to comply with the French ruling and to publicize the company’s refusal. Twitter appealed the lower-court ruling and this week lost its bid to withhold the names. According to a French-government spokesperson (via The Verge):
“We have made important progress with Twitter since December,” government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said in a statement Wednesday. “Anti-discrimination organizations can intervene to stop the avalanche of hate speech that regularly floods the internet, but the illegal messages posted on Twitter remain no less illegal, and adhering to French law is not optional.”
“Twitter must comply with legal orders to allow the identification, and therefore the conviction, of the authors of these hateful tweets,” Vallaud-Belkacem continued.
This is yet another legal cast involving the Internet, where an international conflict of laws is on display. As Twitter correctly argued, much of the content posted under the anti-Semitic hashtags would be allowed in the US under the First Amendment. However, Twitter cannot use that as legal justification in France for withholding the information.
Twitter said it may again try to appeal. It’s doubtful, however, that the company will succeed.