Jewish Students Union: Should Twitter Give France the Personal Information Of Anti-Semitic Tweeters?

France’s Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) has recently announced that it will be pursuing a lawsuit against Twitter based on the website's lack of compliance with regard to a recent ruling by a French court. The group is demanding €38.5 million ($50 million) worth of compensation for Twitter’s failure to comply with the ruling by the court that the website was legally obliged to hand over information regarding the identities of the authors of anti-semitic "tweets" within two weeks of the ruling under French law. The money will be distributed to the Shoah Memorial Fund, a funding group supporting the Holocaust Museum in Paris, France.

According to the Criminal Code of France, Article 222-18-1; "Where threats [contrary to the first paragraph of article 222-17] are committed because of the victim's membership or non-membership, true or supposed, of any given ethnic group, nation, race or religion, they are punishable by two years' imprisonment and by a fine of €30,000." However, while this does apply to French Law, Twitter has made the argument that because its data and operations are entirely based in California with no active branch in France, the court's authority does not extend to the website, thus they are under no obligation to release the names of the authors. Despite this, Twitter has removed the tweets themselves. 

The tweets in question featured the hash tag "#unbonjouif" which translate to "a good Jew …" When one typed the words "Un Bon Jouif" into the Twitter search function they could see anti-Semitic tweets that called up WWII era Nazi slogans such as "A good Jew is a dead Jew," "a good Jew is a burned Jew," etc.

While Twitter is under no legal pressure to reveal the information of the authors of the tweets, one should consider that while U.S. law provides incredibly strong protections on free speech via the First Amendment, the European Union has more restrictive laws concerning free speech in the wake of the Holocaust and the recent rise in support for neo-fascist ideologies such as the "Golden Dawn" movement in Greece. On the contrary view, however, the argument can be made that while the EU has legislated protection to different racial, ethnic, and religious groups, in many countries (France in particular) the governments are using double standards in the application of such laws, which to some degree invalidates their authority. This is especially the case regarding Muslims and Arabs, who have suffered from growing Islamophobia in Europe as well as restrictive laws, such as the French government’s decision to ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab in public.

While it is deplorable that such anti-Semitic comments are being published on Twitter, some, such as European radio commentator Guy Birenbaum, say that legal action against Twitter is an unrealistic way to approach the problem of racism and xenophobia on the internet. It is unclear how to distinguish between "bona-fide" racism and somebody trying to draw attention to themselves by saying something controversial, and the idea of trying to censure that many people is nearly impossible to fully implement. The Jewish Student group has stated that if Twitter does not comply with the French judge's ruling, it will take its case to American courts, where they successfully forced Yahoo to comply with the removal of neo-Nazi articles on its website a decade ago. In addition to this, Twitter suspended a neo-Nazi support group account at the behest of the German government last October, leading to a policy of country-withheld content, allowing the website to block inflammatory content at the behest of a local government within that country. 

In countries such as the U.S., this argument would be illegitimate based on our staunch support of absolute freedom of speech. However, Americans must take into account that other countries' legal systems, for a variety of historical and ethnological reasons, do not offer such protection. The fact of the matter is that while Twitter is under no obligation to report the information regarding these users, those in charge of the website should be keenly aware that as a multinational enterprise, it is probably unwise to adapt universal policies based on legal frameworks that don’t necessarily apply to all that use the website.