Jewish students in France went to court Tuesday to demand that Twitter release the names of French users employing the social media network to spread anti-Semitism.
The hearing, scheduled in November, gained new urgency over the weekend following a flood of posts featuring the hashtag #SiJetaisNazi (#IfIWereANazi). The label ranked in the country’s top five trending topics Saturday.
“Because it does not take the necessary measures to identify where the tweets come from, Twitter is offering a platform to racism and anti-Semitism,“ said Jonathan Hayoun, the president of the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), in a statement Monday.
The legal battle has entered the national spotlight, with four influential anti-racism groups joining the Jewish student organization in claiming that the hashtags violate French laws against hate speech.
Along with UEJF,Â I Accuse! International Action for Justice; SOS Racism; the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism; and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People are calling on Twitter to identify users and set up a framework to warn customers of illegal content.
Twitter says it cannot divulge details about users without approval from a court in the US, where the company is based.
Differences between French and American laws on speech have produced “a huge void, a question mark,“ Twitter attorney Alexandra Neri told Agence France-Presse. The company is arguing that French judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud, who will issue a decision Jan. 24, does not have standing to rule on the matter.
Opponents disagree, with Hayoun urging government action in an op-ed published Sunday in the Liberation newspaper. “It is incumbent on the French justice system to act in accordance with the Republican principles that bind us together,“ he wrote, “and to restore the trust that we place in our justice system.“
UEJF lawyer Stephane Lilti on Tuesday blasted Twitter for “raising a series of judicial obstacles so that it does not have to honor its obligations,“ according to AFP.
Paris-based lawyer Merav Griguer, an expert on French Internet rules, told The Times of Israel that the law is on the side of the Jewish students.
“UEJF is right to take Twitter to court, and has grounds to do so. UEJF and French society in general have much to expect from this first hearing,“ she said.
Even before the decision, the hashtag controversy has reverberated beyond the court, which took the case after French Twitter was inundated in October with the hashtag #UnBonJuif (#AGoodJew). A popular sample tweet at the time was “#AgoodJew is a dead Jew.“
Fleur Pellerin, a junior minister who deals with Internet issues, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the minister of women’s rights, have announced that they will speak about the controversy by phone this week with Twitter executives.
Both sides see the court case as setting a possible precedent.
“This decision could have a very useful, educational impact,“ Griguer said.