Twitter is being sued in France for failing to disclose the identities of users wrapped up in an anti-Semitic hashtag controversy that has spanned five months.
Here’s my attempt to make a long story short:
Back in October of 2012, a hashtag emerged on Twitter that many users found exceedingly offensive. The hashtag, #unbonjuif, roughly translates to “a good jew.” Some Twitter users jumped on the hashtag, posting photos of dust-filled dustpans and other anti-Semitic jokes alongside the hashtag.
A handful of French anti-racism groups called out Twitter, asking that the site remove all of the offending tweets. Eventually, as the pressure mounted, Twitter complied.
But some of the groups, including the French Jewish Students Union (UEJF), decided to push Twitter a bit further. They demanded that Twitter give up the names of all of the users associated with the #unbonjuif tweets, so that they could be prosecuted under local anti-hate speech laws. Twitter wasn’t too keen on this idea, and that led the UEJF to file a summons against the company back in November.
In January, a French court ruled that Twitter must provide the identities of the requested users, to comply with French law. Twitter said that they would review the decision.
And that brings us up to date. The UEJF has officially taken action against Twitter, suing them for roughly $50 million for failing to carry through with the court’s order. Twitter apparently had two weeks to hand over the names, and that time has come and gone.
“Twitter is playing the indifference card and does not respect the ruling,” said UEJF President Jonathan Hayoun. “They have resolved to protect the anonymity of the authors of these tweets and have made themselves accomplices to racists and anti-Semites.”
Twitter reserves the right to give up any information it holds on users if requested by law enforcement or by a court order. They say so in their terms of service – this is not part of the debate. In the past, however, Twitter has gone to bat to protect user privacy when they sense some government overreach. In September of 2012, Twitter 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.
You may remember that they also blocked a neo-Nazi account in Germany last year, utilizing their self-appointed authority to censor content locally if they saw fit. Blocking or removing content is one thing, but disclosing the identities of users in order to aid in regional hate-speech laws is a different ballgame.