Warning: This article contains racist terms and imagery.
In December, Twitter entered the mire of racism controversy that it will not soon escape. In short, “#unbonjuif” which means “a good Jew” became a third most trending topic on the micro-blogging website, and a rather large portion of French tweeters chimed in to share anti-Semitic jokes and hate speech.
The French government had some of the posts taken down, but they were not satisfied and ruled that Twitter reveal the identity of the offending tweeters. Twitter does not have any servers or employees in France, and so they are appealing the ruling, claiming that they are only subject to the American constitution, which protect all speech from measures like the one the French Government is trying to impose. Twitter is paying fines for every day that they withhold their user’s identities.
Indeed, tweets like “#AGoodJew is a Jew dead on the tiles” and the despicable picture above are just as unacceptable here in America as they are in France, but, as the saying goes, we do not agree with what this ignorant, French minority says, but we will defend to the death their right to say it. I am a Jew, but I am an American first, and so I support Twitter in its pursuit to maintain its policy in the face of this understandable adversity from the French government.
There are racist tweeters here in America, too and we, the people, do not let these unacceptable comments go unanswered. For instance, after Barack Obama was re-elected, many people took to their Twitter handles to express their disapproval, and quite a few people were more than happy to proudly flaunt their bigoted ignorance in the process. In events like this, websites like BuzzFeed compiled their hate speech for the general public to review. The people who call Obama a “n*gger” on the internet want attention, and so they get attention; These list articles always go viral. After that, the handles are simply overwhelmed with disgusted direct messages, many are shut down, and the racist tweets themselves often disappear. This correction of discourse is not exactly civil, but it is organic, from one group of citizens to another. Why can’t the French solve the problem that way?
This digital justice, as it is, is not quite as swift in France, and, worse, the stats prove the anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, simply racist tweets, and just racism in general, is more prevalent. France is keen to punish their racist citizens in manner America would typically not, but they also face a xenophobic, prejudice fervor that outmatches ours. In an election years past, the infamously, openly racist far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen got an unreal 18% of the vote for the presidential nomination.
People protested, there were sanctions against him. Now, his daughter Marine replaced him and continues his legacy of hatred, and she too is the target of government sanctions and protests. The name Le Pen remains in French parliament she even beat her father’s record with an 18 percent voter share in the 2012 primary. The forces of free speech and democracy seem unstoppable, even as would-be fascists abuse them.
This is not the only racist controversy Twitter faces in Europe. Germany had a similar bent with the German Government over a Neo-Nazi organization’s Tweets. If the fascists in Greece and Italy are any indication, the three-way clashes between free speech, hate speech, and anti-racism are set to continue. There is simply no way of stopping stupid people in large groups, whether they are anonymous or not.