Twitter Sued For $50 Million In France For Protecting Identity Of Hateful Twitter Users (Even Though It Deleted The Tweets)

from the i-may-not-like-what-you-say,-but-i'll-fight-for-your-right-to-say-it dept

Last year the Union of Jewish French Students (UEJF) sued Twitter, because a bunch of people in France start tweeting ridiculous anti-semitic tweets as some sort of weird anti-semitic hashtag became popular in France:

Last October, the UEJF sued Twitter after the hashtag “#unBonJuif” (French for “#aGoodJew”) became the third most popular trending topic on Twitter in France. With so many tweets indexed under that hashtag, many users took the opportunity to post Holocaust jokes, racially charged statements (e.g. “#aGoodJew is a dead jew”), photos of dustpans filled with dust, and even calls to kill more Jews.

Even though it’s a strong defender of free speech, Twitter agreed to remove the tweets in question as offensive. As someone who is Jewish and who is quite offended by anti-semitism, I still think this was the wrong move. Censoring ignorant speech does nothing to fix things. Ignorant speech should be countered with non-ignorant speech. That said, Twitter made its decision and removed the tweets.

Turns out, that wasn’t enough. The UEJF demanded the identities of everyone who tweeted such anti-semitic remarks. Twitter refused, but lost in court. Afterwards, it still refused to pass along the info, and so the UEJF has now filed a second lawsuit, seeking $50 million.

“Twitter is playing the indifference card and does not respect the ruling,” Hayoun told AFP. “They have resolved to protect the anonymity of the authors of these tweets and have made themselves accomplices to racists and anti-Semites.”

Either that or they’re pushing back against a lynchmob mentality, and protecting at least some precepts of free speech and an expectation of privacy. What’s incredible, frankly, is that while Europe is known to have less respect for free speech principles than the US, it tends to have greater respect for privacy rights. Apparently not in this case, however.

Twitter has put out a statement suggesting that the UEJF is much more interested in using this for publicity purposes than anything else:

“We’ve been in continual discussions with UEJF,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNET. “As yesterday’s new filing shows, they are sadly more interested in grandstanding than taking the proper international legal path for this data. We are filing our appeal today, and would have filed it sooner if not for UEJF’s intentional delay in processing the court’s decision.”

Even more ridiculous is that it appears that it’s not just Twitter being sued, but Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that may be because a decade ago, Yahoo faced a similar ridiculous situation, in which both the company and its CEO were charged as war criminals (no joke!) because Yahoo’s non-France websites sold some Nazi memorabilia (they blocked it on Yahoo’s French sites). At some point, people bringing these kinds of lawsuits have to realize how counterproductive they are. I’m extremely sympathetic to their offense at the ignorant tweets, but their legal actions take away all of that sympathy.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Twitter Sued For $50 Million In France For Protecting Identity Of Hateful Twitter Users (Even Though It Deleted The Tweets)”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
The Real Michael says:

Re: Twits

That’s an interesting observation …and true. Somehow it’s perfectly fine for the the French government to go bomb other countries, killing and looting, but people on the internet making insulting/hateful comments is enough to spur a witch hunt.

Don’t get me wrong, this does not erase the hurt caused by such venom, but it does expose a certain hypocrisy from within their government. The more power the people concede to government, the more the latter will resemble a high-tech thought police state like Nazi Germany.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

On the other hand, you are not allowed to
break French law in France.

Or apparently anywhere else, according to the French. This attitude was put on display when they tried to hold web sites liable for selling Nazi memorabilia anywhere in the world, even when the sales weren’t in France and the web sites weren’t based in France.

Serge says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Mar 22nd, 2013 @ 8:07pm

Yes. How is it possible that Masnick was able to write a whole post about this without mentioning the core fact — that this is about suing to identify the defendants in a suit? As Masnick apparently doesn’t know, U.S’law allows exactly the same thing. If someone has broken the law to your detriment, and you have a lawful case against them, they cannot avoid a suit via a veil of anonymity.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Mar 22nd, 2013 @ 8:07pm

Umm yeah, if there were just looking for names so they can file suit, then where is the the 50 million coming from? That has ‘you dared to stand up to us and so you will be punished for it’ and/or ‘you will be punished for the actions of your users’ written all over it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well you can’t piss off the Jewish, blacks, Asians, Russians, Italians, women, politicians, or lawyers (did I miss anyone?). However, you can make fun of countries, most whites, and poor people.

Free speech is good*

*unless the target is rich and/or powerful, a racism card can be played, or it’s targeting a minority.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I have a joke:
– Two jews walk into a bar
– NO racist jokes!
– What if I kill the jews?!
– I don’t want that kind of things in my show
– I wouldn’t kill them, Nooooo. I’d toss a peny between them and watch them fight to death XD
– ARrrrgghh
– I did it with two catholic priests and a small boy. But the winner had to compete with Michael Jackson

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well you can’t piss off the Jewish, blacks,
Asians, Russians, Italians, women, politicians,
or lawyers. However, you can make fun of countries,
most whites, and poor people.

You can also safely mock or denigrate Christians, but don’t even think about trying that with other religions, especially in Europe. Laughing at Christians is okay, laugh at a Muslim and you’re charged with ‘inciting religious hatred’.

Chris says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That is completely wrong and that is not the reality.

“Laughing at Christians is okay, laugh at a Muslim and you’re charged with ‘inciting religious hatred”. It’ actually the opposite. You can mock Muslims so much as you want, but if you mock or denigrate Christians or Jewish you are charged with religious hatred. I have seen this with my own eyes. It’s very very sad that Muslims are getting mocked and denigrated but this is how the world is today sadly.

Ole Juul (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m with you – good for Twitter. However, I do use Twitter a little bit. One thing that is noteworthy here is that one has to request the “tweets” one gets – by “following”. In other words, I wouldn’t get any messages from the offending parties in this case because I haven’t requested them. I’m not entirely sure why someone would, and perhaps Twitter corporation is wondering the same.

Ole Juul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, it really is difficult to use. I check it about once a month when I post there for an organization. Though occasionally getting updates on something, like during the Egyptian uprising, can be useful. In any case, if one wants something like the hateful tweets mentioned in the story, one has to specifically seek them out, there is absolutely no “public” harm. The ire shown towards Twitter in this case is just plain weird from my perspective. To me it just looks like some kind of aggressive masochism, or similar mixture of contradictory psychology.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem in this case is the fact that the offensive tweets were using a hashtag ‘#aGoodJew’ which was already being used by another organization for positive tweets. So if you searched on that hashtag you’d also get those offensive tweets.

Mind you, I don’t agree with the idea of criminal liability arising from either factual free speech or any opinion however, even granting the fact that France has laws against anti-semitic hate speech, unless Twitter has physical offices in France, they should not be subject to French law. Just as companies without American offices shouldn’t be subject to American law.

Bergman (profile) says:

Precedents and jurisdictions...

Does this mean you could sue a French company that only does (online) business from a server in France in the court of another country and have it stick?

a 42USC1983 suit against the French government perhaps, in U.S. federal court?

Or are the French insisting that only they have the authority to sue a company in another nation in their own court?

Ole Juul (profile) says:

Re: Precedents and jurisdictions...

Perhaps I don’t quite understand your point, but it seems to me that the US was pretty aggressive in bringing down Megaupload, and there are many other examples of the US applying their laws (or trying to) in other countries. I guess everybody just wants to impose their will on others. It’s one of those human flaws which just doesn’t seem to go away. Of course having the courts uphold it doesn’t help.

The Old Man in The Sea says:

They had better be careful what they ask for..... they may get it

The problem with their lawsuit, the moment any Jew makes a comment against anyone else, they have opened themselves up for the same treatment. We already have enough surveillance without silly groups of people wanting more because they are offended.

They have not learnt from history. Yes bad comments can hurt your feelings, but if you don’t develop a thicker skin then everything becomes offensive.

There are times to stand up and be counted and there are times when it is just better to ignore the slurs.

I can think of many occasions when someone has attacked another verbally and and the attackee has responded so well (in some cases by actually saying nothing at all) that the attacker has been left looking like the fool he/she was.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: They had better be careful what they ask for..... they may get it

I am Jewish and the Son of a Holocaust Survivor.My Dad is still alive and here with us at the age of 89.He was in the Underground in Budapest 1944.He was Captured and Tortured by the Gestapo late Oct.1944 and then shipped to Germany where he was Enslaved in four Concentration Camps.

I am a Firm Believer in Free Speech.Nazi Fucks open their mouths and spout their dribble I will use intelligence to put them down.Most folks got enough sense to know these kind of guys are human refuse.
Best to use great Words to show how dumb and how low they are as people. Check out the Kratz Family Memorial Website of Carpathian Jewry.

Serge says:

Re: They had better be careful what they ask for..... they may get it

No, that’s incorrect. Rather, the moment any Jew makes a racist comment in violation of French laws on same, they have opened themselves up for the same treatment. That’s because French law says so, not because of this suit — though you wouldn’t know it to read Techdirt’s article, which is misleading.

anonymouse says:

Resolve this quick

How did this become such a big story , it is just spreading the hatred, easy way to stop this tell everyone that if they don’t want to see this to not use twitter.
This whole incident is just giving more of the limelight for those that would like to spread their hatred, I am happy to see that the people that visit this site are not the type that would spread this hatred, nice guy’s very nice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Although discrimination is a horrible thing, and I do suffer from it personally where I live and without knowing why Twitter is really doing this, I believe what Twitter did is a good thing.

People should be able to say what they want, even if what they want to say is objectable. I do understand that France has historical reasons to come down hard on that type of speech, but it should not.

Speech is above all a sensor, you don’t disconnect your heat sensor on a thermonuclear facility because it shows you readings you don’t like or would get you in trouble. You go down there and see why it is reaching those temperature levels and fix the problem.

I just read an opinion piece on the CNN about a man being fired because he was gay, and how in 29 states in America that is ok to do it.

I find that even more troubling than just jokes and hate speech in a public forum you deprive people of a way to earn a living, that is serious, but even so I don’t think we need government to step in and enact laws or make illegal. Why? because things change the ones doing the discrimination could be the ones down the road facing that same type of discrimination by gay people and I believe although wrong to do it, it would be a form o scape valve.

People without prejudice should unity and create their own firms, their own work spaces and start discriminating against people who discriminate, I believe in market forces doing the “education”, I don’t believe in governments, they are too slow to adapt to change they are not well suited to deal with those types of situations and literally have no skin on these matters, people on the streets though see and feel everything they have to live through all of that and they know the context they are in, they are better suited to judge what needs to be done and short of violence, some forms of discrimination actually could be used as enforcement of social codes, not all of course, extreme cases may need use of force to stop it, you don’t want Jews burning White Supremacists houses or vice-versa and you don’t want religious people attacking physically each other, but light overt discrimination may be ok.

Just a thought.

SleepyJohn (profile) says:

Re: "Speech is above all a sensor"

“Speech is above all a sensor, you don’t disconnect your heat sensor on a thermonuclear facility because it shows you readings you don’t like or would get you in trouble. You go down there and see why it is reaching those temperature levels and fix the problem.”

I like this. I think it is one of the best practical arguments for free speech regardless of content that I have ever come across.

Corwin (profile) says:

Why would they pay?

Who in France can make them pay? This makes no sense. How would they enforce that?
France : “Twitter owes us fifty mil!”
Twitter: “Fuck you.”
France : “…”

What’re they gonna do, send French repo men? Where? Or, censor the site, because that’s going to work. LOL

This makes no sense. Oh, yeah, so they’d be barred from using French bank accounts to pay and get paid for ads and shit. Like that’s critically important for business. Yeah, right.

WHAT are they gonna do? If it was physical goods it’d be easy to stop them at borders or something, but it’s a website. How could France punish a website for not paying up this censorship-based racketeering? Or stop it from operating? There are hundreds of sites that extract and sort and filter Twitter feeds, would they try and stop those? It’s impossible.

WHY would they pay?

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why would they pay?

France freezes Twitter assets in France,
and Twitter assets handled by French companies

Yes, Twitter would have to be sure and divest themselves of the country before defying the order. Shut down their offices there and pull their assets out of French banks. But for a mostly-online company like Twitter, that’s of minimal concern.

France issues national and international
arrest warrants for Twitter executives

Which the U.S. would ignore and refuse extradition. All those warrants would mean is that those executives would have to be careful to never go to France. So much as a plane change at Charles de Gaulle and they could be snatched up. Otherwise, the warrants are meaningless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why would they pay?

You are incorrect!
It ain’t just France, it’s the EU (the Franco-German duopoly controls the European Union).
And don’t forget, the majority of the biggest and most important institutions of the EU are located in France, giving France a huge additional influence (for example, just 1 French city, Strasbourg, is the official seat of the European Parliament, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, Eurocorps, European Ombudsman, etc, etc…)!

The arrest warrants are automatically enforced in Europe (“Once issued, it requires another member state to arrest and transfer a criminal suspect or sentenced person to the issuing state so that the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period”).
So, realistically speaking, an entire continent, and a very important one, is completely off limits for them!
And not many extra-European countries are known to ignore EU warrants, and requests; creating a very real chilling effect for the Twitter executives to to travel abroad (greatly impeding abilities to conduct business, and personal affairs)…

Anonymous Coward says:

Almost forgot, what this has to do with free speech.

Simple, overt discrimination against people who discriminate would put those people who discriminate at the fringe of society, they would have to be quiet in public and only have to vent their frustrations in open anonymous ways, which is not bad.

Society becomes aware of potential problems by letting people vent their frustrations whatever those are, and light/overt discrimination against discrimination acts as the enforcing mechanism to keep those discontent inline with social norms.

Would it work?

Shunning has been used for a long time to preserve social rules in many communities, is a powerful thing, so it could work and could be better than “government” because then it is personal, it is not the big brother forcing anything is your own peers telling you, you should not do it, and should change your ways.

Some times it will be good and some times it will be bad.
Discrimination is not all bad, when people boycott some big box retailer or food chain or company they are discriminating, it brought a lot of changes some good some bad, but mostly good, so again, I feel in my heart this is the way to go and do things.

This is why I don’t think those people using the legal system should get that far in this case.

Would be better if, people started a campaign on French streets to discriminate against racists, if the free speech sensor is showing an increase on racist talk.

Everyone of us should condemn those racists public even if they are doing it for the LuLz, and this will sound funny, but this is one case you don’t want to discriminate against and try and sort it out, anybody who used that should get the same response and that would be a good old fashioned shunning from everyone he knows.

Ninja (profile) says:

As wisely noted hate speech is greatly empowered when people pay attention and actually get offended by it. Ignore them and they’ll be the angry ones.

I personally don’t like how the Jewish institutions in power act so I sort of understand the hatred. Still throwing idiotic statements on the internet or wherever is not the path to deal with it. And most Jewish people have nothing to do with those in power. It’s like blaming all Muslims for the stupidity of a few fundamentalists.

Grover (profile) says:

Re: As wisely noted,

I agree with this statement. However, in practice, I’ve found it quite difficult to accomplish when faced with a highly motivated, fanatical mindset (think of our esteemed Westboro Baptist Church). While it is more-than-likely true, hate-speech mongers feed on being recognized and at the center of attention, which is why they’re called attention-whores.

Ignoring them and hoping they will go away hasn’t seemed to work as well as hoped for – they just get more vocal and creative in pushing their agenda. In some cases, laws have curbed the brazen, in-your-face, confrontational excesses – but they’ve not extinguished the underlying motivation(s).

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: As wisely noted,

I’d say simply ignoring would indeed be problematic. However getting angry and outraged just fuels them. Take action yes but don’t give them the fuel.

But in the end I don’t agree with censoring this kind of speech. Punish those that go beyond speech and do it harshly. But just because someone says something hateful is not enough reason for doing what France has done.


so whats wrong you UEJF fARtS?

if the holocaust means “6 mil jews died” then i will deny gladly.
even 1 million will be too much
gas chambers are a made up farce.
most died because of typhus.
Zyklon B was for disinfectation.
the jewish population after WW2 was quite bigger so where’s the “gap” ?

remember David Cole


Anonymous Coward says:

Hats off to Jewish Mike Masnick who refuses to get sucked in by the emotional aspects. He’s correct; the intelligent warrior knows that the answer to free speech problems is more free speech, or as Masnick puts it ” Ignorant speech should be countered with non-ignorant speech”. Censorship just represents an even more hateful intolerance. Let Freedom Ring !

Jack says:

Anti-Semitism is exploding in Europe. In Denmark, the police have warned Jews not to wear any religious symbols in public at the risk of being assaulted. Jewish children in Denmark attend private schools which are surrounded by barbed-wire fences. In Hungary, public officials are openly anti-Semitic. The same is true in Greece and in the Ukraine. In Chile, Jews have been accused of arson resulting in the destruction of thousands of acres of land in Patagonia. Jews have been expelled from hundreds of countries during the past 300 years. Isn’t it time Jews asked themselves why they are so intensely hated by everyone on the planet?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...