France Wants Names Of Twitter Users
January 25, 2013

Twitter Ordered To Hand Over Names Of Racist Tweeters

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

On Friday a French court ruled that micro blog service Twitter, which allows users to post 140-character “tweets,” must hand over the identities of users in France who used the service to post racist remarks. The Paris court ordered Twitter to turn over to the French Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) whatever data the service had that could help identify the account holders who posted the tweets.

The court further ordered Twitter to make it easier for users of its French website to report “illicit content,” including revisionist statements and other racist comments.

Last October, the company, after numerous complaints, agreed to remove anti-Semitic tweets, which included racial slurs and photos evoking the Holocaust. While that was from user pressure, the court order is another matter.

As the Huffington Post noted on Friday, Twitter may not have to comply with the court order as the U.S. company has no personnel or offices in France.

This is not the first time anti-Semitic content online has been addressed in France. Back in 2000, a French judge ruled Yahoo had to make it impossible for French users to access sites auctioning race hate memorabilia, including Nazi-related items. Existing French law prohibits the selling or display of anything that incites racism.

The Twitter case began in October with tweets containing racist comments including the hashtag #UBonJuif -- a good Jew. This started a trend that included #SiMonFilsEstGay -- if my son is gay. Twitter responded by removing the majority of the offending content from the site, but at the time refused to hand over details of the groups making the posts -- which not surprisingly were posted under pseudonyms.

It was that refusal in October that subsequently prompted the lawsuit from the UEJF that led to today´s ruling.

Twitter´s response to date has been to remove posts in countries where those posts violate the law, and last October went a little further by blocking access to neo-Nazi sites in Germany.

As far as identifying actual users, it seems that is a line Twitter may not readily cross. The micro social network maintains its data is stored on US-based servers and thus, it has no obligation -- legal or otherwise -- to divulge the identity of users unless it is served by a court in the United States. That has actually happened, most notably in relation to Occupy protestors last year, which Twitter strongly resisted.

“It is our policy to respond to such US court-ordered requests when properly served,” Twitter responded via its website and reported by The New York Times.

The French have responded that the company faces fines of $1,300 per day until it complies.

“This is a historic decision, that has delivered French justice today,” said UEJF president Jonathan Hayoun, as reported by TG Daily. “It tells the victims of racism and [anti-Semitism] that they are not alone, and that the French law that defends them applies everywhere.”

No doubt many people on both sides of the issue will take to Twitter to voice their opinions on this case.