Twitter is once again going to be forced to make a decision on how far they will go to protect the privacy rights of its users, thanks to a ruling made today by a French court.
The court ruled that Twitter must turn over the identities of users behind a specific set of tweets, after they had been deemed to be in violation of French anti-hate speech laws.
The whole thing started back in October of 2012 when some Twitter users jumped on a trending hashtag, #unbonjuif, which roughly translates to "a good jew." Some users posted photos of dust-filled dustpans, among other offensive jokes alongside the hashtag. French anti-racism groups made their displeasure known, and Twitter agreed to remove the offending tweets amidst mounting pressure.
Although Twitter complied with the requests of the French Jewish Students Union (among others), they balked at the groups' next request. the UEJF demanded that Twitter turn over the names of the users behind the aforementioned tweets, so that they could be prosecuted under local anti-hate speech laws.
The UEJF filed a summons in a French court back in November.
And today, the court has ruled that Twitter must provide the identities of the requested users, as accordance with French law. Twitter has only responded that they are reviewing the decision.
Twitter definitely reserves the right to give up any information it holds on users if requested by law enforcement or by a court order. But they have, at least in the past, gone to bat to protect user privacy when they sense some government overreach. Back in September, Twitter finally gave in to the Manhattan D.A.’s office and gave up the deleted, inaccessible tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester - but only after they fought it tooth and nail.
Any time something like this comes up, the topic of free speech usually accompanies the dialogue. In this case, it comes down to speech vs. hate-speech laws in France.
Twitter faced backlash from free speech advocates last year when they blocked a neo-Nazi account - but in Germany only. It was the first time that Twitter had utilized a "power" that it gave itself last year, the power to locally censor content if they saw fit.