French Student Group Sues Twitter (Again) For $50 Million (Again) Over Tweets It Doesn't Like

from the how-do-you-say-publicity-stunt-in-french? dept

Three years ago, we wrote about a crazy story in which the Union of Jewish French Students (UEJF) was suing Twitter for $50 million, claiming that the fact that an anti-semitic hashtag started trendng violated some sort of anti-hate speech law in France. Twitter, somewhat ridiculously, actually agreed to remove the tweets in question, saying they were offensive. Even after that, UEJF demanded that Twitter also reveal the identities of everyone who tweeted the hashtag... and won (not the money, but Twitter was told to hand over the user info)! Yeah, France is not a big supporter of free speech, we get it, but this is still ridiculous.

At the time, Twitter claimed that the whole thing was really a publicity stunt for UEJF:
"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."
Apparently, it's time to ramp up the grandstanding again, as reports are now spreading that the same group has now sued Twitter yet again, and once again for $50 million, and (somewhat incredibly) in all of the tech press coverage I'm reading of this, none seem to mention the lawsuit from three years ago. Of course, this time it's not just Twitter, but YouTube and Facebook that are also being sued for $50 million. And it's not over a trending hashtag, but rather just a bunch of obnoxious tweets:
In this "first mass test of social networks," the groups uncovered 586 instances of content that was "racist, anti-Semitic, denied the Holocaust, homophobic (or) defended terrorism or crimes against humanity," the joint statement said.

Only a fraction of these postings were deleted by the host organisations within a "reasonable time," as required under a 2004 French law: four percent on Twitter, seven percent on YouTube and 34 percent on Facebook.
Look, there are a lot of terrible people who say terrible stuff on the internet. That's kind of a thing that happens on the internet. And, no, it's not very nice. But it takes an incredible leap in logic to take that fact and say... "Hey, let's sue the internet companies for this." In the US, of course, such a lawsuit would be immediately laughed out of court for infringing on the First Amendment. You can say ignorant stuff in America and it won't lead to $50 million dollar lawsuits against the technology you used to say your ignorant stuff. Now, as we've discussed in the past, American companies should be protected from these kinds of ridiculous lawsuits by the SPEECH Act, which rejects foreign judgments that wouldn't survive First Amendment scrutiny in the US. But, of course, that won't do much good for internet giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- all of whom have a strong presence in France, including employees. The courts can still target all of that.

But, really, UEJF is being completely idiotic here:
"It's a mystery whether moderating teams in social media are actually working," said Sacha Reingewirtz, president of the UEJF.

Dominique Sopo, head of SOS-Racisme, said the social media giants were hypocritical.

"These platforms seem more shocked about content with bare breasts, which is swiftly censored, than about incitement to hatred," Sopo said.

"Our legal step aims at getting the authorities to apply the law so that these organisation submit to it in full."
First of all, the quote from Reingewirtz is ridiculous. It's something someone says when they have absolutely no sense of the sheer scale of what these companies deal with. They don't scan every new post or video because that's simply impossible. And while Sopo at least has a point about Facebook's prude sensibilities, that doesn't necessary apply to the other platforms... and also, is a very different thing. And, really, if you're trying to get platforms to broadly censor a class of content, it seems like a rather strange way to go about it by then mocking the very same companies for blocking a class of content that you don't happen to find offensive.

Who knows where this ends up, though given that France is the same country that once declared Yahoo's CEO to be a war criminal, because someone used Yahoo's auction service (yes, children, Yahoo once competed directly with eBay in auctions) to auction off some Nazi memorabilia, it may not end well for those companies. The whole thing is ridiculous though. Even if you think saying stupid, ignorant, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic things should be against the law, at the very least focus on the people who actually said that stuff, rather than the technologies people used to say them.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 8:33am

    Is Cnesorship, what a keyword, is that censorship by Nintendo? :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 8:41am

    Given how France seems to think it has global jurisdiction...

    I wonder what it would take to get a prosecutor and a grand jury to indict the upper levels of the French government for conspiracy to violate US Constitutional rights -- a felony -- and seek extradition?

    After all, if France can reach into other countries and ignore their sovereignty, then naturally other sovereign nations can do the same to France.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 10:08am

      Re: Given how France seems to think it has global jurisdiction...

      I think they learned it from us. But actually it is a time-honored tradition. When you are both Right and you want to maintain the appearance of Power and Empire, it's a heady combination.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 1:56pm

      Re: Given how France seems to think it has global jurisdiction...

      A USian complaining about other countries trying to assert global jurisdiction?

      Oh, the irony.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 8:43am

    France being disconnected ....

    from the Internet in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

    after all, they've already demonstrated that they're disconnected from reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 9:08am

    France iDelivery

    "But, of course, that won't do much good for internet giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- all of whom have a strong presence in France, including employees."

    Isn't this the very kind of litmus test that should be used by these internet giants to determine where a strong presence including employees (and taxes) are best located OR NOT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 9:27am

    I don't know how much success they will have but if the users of these tweets are from countries that have protected free speech, this student group will not be able to reveal the identities of users, if they are from countries like the United States, who have strong constitutional protections regarding even content that is seen as racist.

    For instance, if a user is in the United States, then the student group shouldn't be allowed to reveal the identity of that user.

    Even racist rhetoric that is praised by skinheads, the KKK and even the Black Lives movement, is considered protected conduct under the first amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled it is and even the United Nations recognizes that free speech is a protected basic right.

    Even if you don't agree with the speech, it is still "protected".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 9:42am

      Re:

      Even racist rhetoric ... is considered protected conduct under the first amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled it is
      Exactly - I am much more worried by the thought that Twitter, facebook etc might actually be censoring stuff (and, unfortunately I believe that they currently do even if only temporarily) than by the thought that they might let "nasty" stuff through.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 9:54am

      Re:

      While I'm not in disagreement with you, I'm all but certain that even if they got the information on the people in the US, any judgement against them would be completely unenforceable. Possibly they might want to avoid traveling to France but they should be pretty safe otherwise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 9:48am

    I find this truly amusing. Europe is big on privacy laws, but not all that interested or concerned about free speech. If organizations like Union of Jewish French Students continue moving forward with ridiculous laws suits, they will end up with their section of the internet being the lowest common denominator of free speech imaginable.

    I say more power to them, the more restrictive they become, the sooner they becoming a self censoring nation like China. That means less competition for the US.

    Yay!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    powerKitten (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 10:15am

    Do these cluster****s even know what they're talking about???

    "It's a mystery whether moderating teams in social media are actually working," said Sacha Reingewirtz, president of the UEJF.
    "These platforms seem more shocked about content with bare breasts, which is swiftly censored, than about incitement to hatred," Sopo said.

    Bull. YouTube's rule against harassment/incitement to hatred is one of the only ones they've been shown to take seriously. The fake bullying video uploaded to promote Unfriended was removed before it hit 1,000 views for violating these terms. (source: http://trilbee.com/reviews/written-review-unfriended-2015)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 10:36am

    The problem I'm finding is that European courts are going to try and force social media to censor content being posted by users in the United States. Facebook already has survived far too long and I'm shocked that they haven't been shuttered yet.

    If social media networks start censoring content being posted by users in the United States, it could be the push that users need to abandon those social media networks in favor of those who will protect their constitutional, civil and human rights.

    What I find deplorable is that European groups are trying to censor content being posted by American users.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      What I find deplorable is that European groups are trying to censor content being posted by American users

      What the US companies forcing US copyright enforcement practices on other countries, is that also deplorable?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 10:40am

    If TPP passes, it could allow social media groups like facebook and twitter to sue countries like France, who allow student groups to sue social media networks, since it would violate the constitutional rights of those users from the United States.

    If France finds in favor of these student groups in France, it could potentially allow any user who posted those tweets (if they reside in the United States) to sue these social media networks for censoring the content they posted, since it would be a violation of their constitutional rights.

    Social media networks like facebook and twitter could find themselves facing a lawsuit in the United States for violating a user's constitutional rights if European countries force social media networtks to censor content of users posting in the United States.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 10:42am

    Someone needs to remind the European Union that the TPP would allow twitter and facebook and sue countries like France through the "Corporate Sovereignty" provisions in the TPP if courts allowed groups to force these social media networks to censor the content of their users.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dog, 17 May 2016 @ 10:50am

    Misnomer

    The contemporary usage of anti-semitic is a bit of misnomer considering it's a linguistic term that refers to a family of languages from the Middle East which includes Arabic, Amahric, Tigrinya, Aramaic, Maltese, and of course Hebrew.

    It was first used in the 1800s by those who were against the revival of the Hebrew languages since it had been dead for nearly a thousands years. In fact, some of the first anti-semites aka anti-hebrews were Jewish since they didn't believe we could ever learn to speak it correctly and thus a great insult to their ancestors.

    The correct words would be Judeophobia and anti-Judiaism but I suppose anti-semantics is the norm these days - pun intended.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:00pm

    Another issue is having these non-free speech European countries demand that people living in the US be extradited overseas to face trial for "crimes" that are not even the slightest bit unlawful on US soil.

    Just as people in many countries around the world are arrested and extradited to the US to stand trial for a wide variety of charges, such as copyright infringement, that are lesser crimes (if crimes at all) in their home country, the flow of prisoners is not just one way. Just ask Ernst Z√ľndel, who spent many years in prison (in the US, Canada, and Germany) for the things he wrote while living in the US.

    Apparently the US Constitution's 1st Amendment does not apply to anything posted on the internet, since it can be READ in a country where such speech is banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 1:38pm

    Critique is okay. Its not anti semitism just because you dont agree with you

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:28pm

    I keep thinking of Vichy France whenever I hear about how France acts these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 2:42am

    They want the world filtered to just the things they like, ignoring that if they win... they might find themselves filtered out of existence because someone finds them insulting.

    I'm not a huge fan of hate speech, but I'm glad they can say it. I shake my head and move on, I don't have my entire life fall apart because someone called me faggot online. As often is said and ignored by these filter the world to be acceptable to me types, the answer to speech you disagree with is more speech.

    I've encountered people who've said things I think are hateful, and actually had productive conversations. They begin to see me as me who happens to be gay rather than as the big boogeyman stereotype of 'the gays' they are taught to fear. While in a dream we'd all love a perfect world where a hateful word is never said, I'd prefer to make sure people learn the skills to cope with hearing it, and find a voice to engage with those who might be swayed that hate of a group is pointless. Hate those who do things themselves, don't hate entire groups for the actions of a few. Trying to make the world censor those who say distasteful things just gives them more power and a sense of purpose to fight for... if you ignore them they get really upset because they can't get the responses they need to fuel their demonization.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Andreas (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 7:33am

    "Twitter was told to hand over the user info)! Yeah, France is not a big supporter of free speech"

    What does that have to do with free speech? If you commit a crime, it's not free speech, it's a crime. And if you try to do it anonymously, doesn't mean you have the right to stay anonymous because of "free speech".

    The weird thing is, that he requested the names of everyone who did it, not french citizens who did it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 May 2016 @ 2:24am

      Re:

      "What does that have to do with free speech? If you commit a crime, it's not free speech, it's a crime."

      ...and the point of free speech is that what you say isn't a crime, no matter how offensive someone else finds it.

      Not that it's implemented like that anywhere, but how is it not a free speech issue?

      "The weird thing is, that he requested the names of everyone who did it, not french citizens who did it."

      How would Twitter know which users are French citizens and which are not?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 18 May 2016 @ 7:34am

    Even if you think saying stupid, ignorant, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic things should be against the law, at the very least focus on the people who actually said that stuff, rather than the technologies people used to say them.

    Pig-ignorant and downright rude individuals don't have $50m down the back of the sofa, Mike. That's why they're going after Twitter. That said, I can't help getting a mental image of Dr. Evil with his pinkie finger in the corner of his mouth saying "Fifty million dollars" in a cod French accent every time I read those words. He'd look good in a beret, non?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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