Click photo to download. Caption: The Twitter logo. Credit: Twitter.

By Alina Dain

Click photo to download. Caption: The Twitter logo. Credit: Twitter.

Twitter on
Friday agreed to release data identifying users to French authorities in
response to a January ruling by a French court regarding anti-Semitic tweets
posted last October under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew). Users had jumped
on the chance to tweet phrases like “a good Jew is a dead Jew,” ultimately
forcing the French Jewish students’ union (UEJF) to file a lawsuit against
Twitter for allowing that content to appear.

decision by Twitter was “a great victory in the fight against racism and
anti-Semitism” and “a big step in the fight against the feeling of impunity on
the Internet,” said Jonathan Hayoun, president of France’s Union of Jewish
Students (UEJF), in a statement.

When the
French court had decided last January that Twitter must reveal the identities
of users who sent out those anti-Semitic tweets, Twitter initially refused to
release the data. UEJF then sued Twitter for 38.5 million euros. In a rare
newly announced move overlooking U.S. free speech laws Twitter agreed to
release the data and said in a statement that the social network will work with
UEJF “to fight racism and anti-Semitism,” and “to improve the accessibility of
the procedure for notifications of illicit tweets.”

The French
incident, which led to a cross-continental debate on the difficulty of defining
and policing anti-Semitism online, is hardly the first case of hate in social
media and on the Web. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2013 Digital Terrorism and
Hate Report found more than 20,000 hate and terror-related websites, social networks,
forums and more, a 30-percent increase from 15,000 in 2012.

Also in
Europe, a February
report by the Community Security Trust showed that the number of
anti-Semitic incidents via social media in the United Kingdom grew nearly 700
percent in the 12 months before it was released.

“Social media
is becoming more and more of a problem for us if you look at anti-Semitism,” Ronald Eissens, co-founder
of the Dutch anti-racism group Magenta and the International Network Against
Cyber Hate (INACH), which works to counter cyber-hate and has 21 members in
20 countries, told “There’s a lot of it around. Prosecution
is a lot harder because most social media are based firmly in the U.S.”

In France,
the Gayssot law of 1990 was passed to repress racist, anti-Semitic or
xenophobic acts and criminalizes Holocaust denial. French Holocaust denier
Robert Faurisson later claimed the law violated his right to freedom of
expression and academic freedom, but the United Nations Human Rights Committee
ruled against him. France punishes the dissemination of racist content online
with fines and terms of imprisonment. These penalties increase if the dissemination
was public–for example, on a website rather than in a private email–according
to the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

France has
faced off against an American online giant before. In 2000, France prosecuted
Yahoo! for selling Nazi memorabilia online. In France, it is illegal to display
such items unless they are in a theatrical or museum setting. A French court
ruled at the time that Yahoo! had to make the auction site inaccessible to
French users or pay a fine. Although it never legally accepted the French
ruling, Yahoo! eventually chose to remove …read more


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