Twitter ordered to unmask hate speakers

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy, Twitter

Twitter logoMonths after hate speech was taken down from Twitter, a French court has ordered the company to hand over details of users who posted anti-Semitic content.

The court, in Paris, issued the order on Thursday in response to a request from the French Jewish students' union (UEJF) and others.

According to Le Monde, Twitter has 15 days following service of the order to unmask users.

If it fails to do so, it will be subject to fines of €1,000 (£850/$1,346) per day.

Twitter has refrained from commenting beyond telling news outlets that it's studying the decision.

Le Monde in October published this collection of anti-semitic jokes on Twitter, after the tag #UnBonJuif (a good Jew) started to make waves.

Other Twitter tags associated with hate speech that have been making the rounds in France include #SiMonFilsEstGay (if my son is gay) and #SiMaFilleRamèneUnNoir (if my daughter brings home a black guy).

Twitter deactivated the accounts in question in October.

In the US, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it incites violence.

In countries such as France and Germany, however, laws ban hate speech.

As IT Pro Portal describes, that conundrum led Twitter to announce, a year ago, that it would block tweets whose content was restricted by certain countries.

Twitter first blocked content in October, suspending access to an account run by a neo-Nazi group in Germany.

Hooded person, courtesy of ShutterstockTwitter in general has resisted handing over users' details, but courts have forced its hand: once when New York authorities got a court order for data about a user who threatened to kill people at a Manhattan theater, and again in September, when it turned over the tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester.

As IT Pro Portal reports, a lawyer for Twitter earlier this month pointed to the company's US location as being a sticking point in forcing it to hand over data. Since the data is collected in the US, the French order should be authorised by a US judge, the lawyer said.

The French court disagreed, responding that the US's First Amendment protection doesn't apply in France.

Twitter will likely be brought to its knees again in this case, forced to take away the anonymity that's cloaked people who publish pretty vile content.

It's a good reminder that that invisibility cloak is illusory. It can be shredded by court dictate.

That invisibility cloak can also be stripped by the content platform itself.

Take Google as an example: In June 2012, it started to nudge users toward real-name usage on YouTube.

What's now merely a polite request could well blossom into a requirement as Google attempts to drain what is now a racist, ignorant, creepy, underage, psychotic, incoherent and/or homophobic swamp.

Therefore, it only makes sense to spout hatred if you truly believe that it's worth saying so publicly, and if you believe in such statements so sincerely, that law-ordered punishments aren't enough to dissuade you.

Are these demands for transparency an erosion of individuals' online privacy?

Sure. But that's the trade-off for not having cowards protected by cloaks of anonymity behind which they can safely hurl trash.


Hooded person image courtesy of Shutterstock

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12 Responses to Twitter ordered to unmask hate speakers

  1. Skip · 443 days ago

    Why is this Twitters problem? If France doesn't like it France should sensor the internet from its citizens(which is wrong) no tell Twitter what to do. Freedom of speech for all people should be protected, even if you dont like what they are saying. If you think otherwise, then who is it who gets to decide what is ok and what isnt? Do you trust someone else with that power? As diverse of a population that nations have, we should err on the side of an abundance of freedom not a government that treats you like children.

  2. skip · 443 days ago

    Oh! And it's nice to see that France says they dont care about the US's 1st Amendment.
    Thanks pals, glad to see some respect from a nation whos liberty has been secured on more than one occasion by the blood of US soldiers.

    • Captain woof · 443 days ago

      No offence meant skip, but that's a terrible attitude. It's their country and they make their own laws. The 'American' 1st amendment does not and should not apply to French citizens.

      I may have read your comment wrong, in which case I apologise, but since the subject is on free speech, you are of course entitled to share your opinion. Just don't go thinking you have any more rights to it than anybody else simply because you were born in particular country.

      • Wox · 443 days ago

        Nicely said Captain woof

      • John Doe · 442 days ago

        > The 'American' 1st amendment does not and should not apply to French citizens.

        The global Internet was created by the USA, therefore the 1st Amendment applies. If the french do not like that they are free to revert to their own "Minitel" teletext modem network of the 1980s and abandon use of the global Internet (ex ARPANET).

        Twitter should abandon the french market out of conscience. God bless America!

        BTW, this statement in the article is not complete:
        "In the US, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it incites violence."

        In fact, in the US "hate speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it incites CREDIBLE, DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE THREAT of violence." That is a very, very strict legal condition, which the US authorities can seldom match with ample proof in the court of law. Because of this, most hate speech prosecutions fail in the USA.

        • Captain woof · 441 days ago

          Ah the classic "I'm taking my ball and going home" argument. Last time I heard that one I'd just beaten my twelve year old nephew at Mario Kart. If you're going to use that argument, you might want to make sure you own the ball to begin with John.

          The modern 'public' internet was actually invented by one Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a 'British' computer scientist who released his discoveries for free into the public domain so that all mankind could benefit. I must admit, it's good to see his work being put to good use by such obviously well informed persons as yourself Mr Doe.

          Since you believe that the internet 'was created by the USA' and that in some way gives the American's the right to say who does and doesn't use it, I've decided to play your game. I, Captain Woof, being a British born Londoner (God bless the queen etc.) have decided that, since the modern internet was in fact built by a fellow Brit and that in some way makes me it's caretaker (apparently), that you, Mr. John Doe, can no longer use it to spread your ill informed and generally unpleasant jingoistic comments.

          Oh but I do agree with you on one point John. God should indeed bless America, because if all Americans are as ignorant of foreigners as you clearly are then nobody else will.

  3. Rob · 443 days ago

    Freedom of speech: yes, but anonymous? I do not know.
    Two other things come to my mind: Hitler used freedom of speech to create his third Reich.
    And then: who can we trust to judge what is right or wrong.
    I do not have the answer.

  4. Meh · 443 days ago

    Governments should keep their filthy hands off the internet, hackers should go after racist/ anti-semitic/ homophobe content. Whenever the government touches anything, it turns to shit. Same goes for big money. For instance Google=facebooks bigger brother.

    • davie69 · 443 days ago

      This is an order of a court not the French government

  5. Michael · 443 days ago

    When will people learn that by labeling something as "hate" speech, it is empowering others. Learn "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

  6. frig-id-border · 432 days ago

    SKIP@
    "Oh! And it's nice to see that France says they dont care about the US's 1st Amendment.
    Thanks pals, glad to see some respect from a nation whos liberty has been secured on more than one occasion by the blood of US soldiers. "

    YES, we do not care and that you have written - about a nation - is wrong and so, irrelevant.

    It is not a question of tweeter, black or jew or hate or violence it is a question against america for money - something like a politic racket between who and who ?
    That's the question : European deputy against congres ? Diplomat against diplomat ? US bank against french or german bank ? Maybe ...

    Anyway, it is not important (tweeter or account deleted or censured jokes), in france, and i know what i am speaking about ; it is fun - even saying kill him is fun ... so ...

  7. MCook · 385 days ago

    You Americans commenting on this, go away! You're embarrassing me!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.