Twitter Ordered to Help Reveal Sources of Anti-Semitic Posts

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PARIS -- In a case that has prompted soul-searching here about the right balance between ethnic tolerance and free speech, a French court on Thursday ordered Twitter to help the authorities identify the authors of anti-Semitic and racist entries on the social network.

Twitter said in a statement that it was reviewing the ruling and whether it might appeal. It was not immediately clear whether or how the company might comply with the decision, which called on it to provide "data in its possession that could permit the identification of anyone who has contributed to the creation of manifestly illegal tweets."

The case was prompted by a rash of anti-Semitic writing on Twitter late last year, including hashtags, or topical themes, like "a good Jew is a dead Jew." There were also jokes about the Holocaust and comments denigrating Muslims. Holocaust denial is a crime in France, and the country has strict laws against hate speech.

Twitter removed some of the material, but organizations like the Union of French Jewish Students and SOS Racisme filed a lawsuit calling on Twitter to turn over the identities of the people responsible for the accounts. Twitter has refused to do this, saying it divulges the identities of account-holders only if it receives a court order to do so in the United States, where its servers are based.

The Jewish students' union hailed the decision.

"The French justice system has made a historic decision today," said Jonathan Hayoun, the president of the group, in a statement. "It reminds victims of racism and anti-Semitism that they are not alone, and that French law, which protects them, should apply everywhere, including Twitter."

The sensitivity of the issue was heightened by the killing of seven people, including four Jews, in southern France last March by Mohammed Merah, who claimed to be acting for Al Qaeda. Since then, Jewish groups say, anti-Semitic material, including Twitter feeds appearing to be tributes to Mr. Merah, has proliferated.

Several French government officials, including Fleur Pellerin, the digital-economy minister, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a spokeswoman for the government, have called on Twitter to step up its efforts to root out racist material. The contents on Twitter and other social networks, they say, should comply with local laws and sensibilities, no matter where the companies are based.

Social media platforms like Twitter say screening material is logistically impossible, given the volume that is posted, and an infringement on free speech.

The court stopped short of recommending screening, but said that Twitter should "set up, within the framework of its French platform, an easily accessible and visible system enabling anyone to bring to its attention illegal content, especially that which falls within the scope of the apology of crimes against humanity and incitement to racial hatred."

Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem has organized a meeting with Twitter and anti-racism groups on Feb. 8 to discuss possible solutions.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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