France orders Twitter to identify authors of racist posts

A French court has ruled that Twitter, which has steadfastly refused calls to police its millions of users, must hand over data to help identify the authors of racist or anti-semitic tweets.

In a test case that pitted the right to free speech against laws banning hate rhetoric, the court granted a request lodged in October by France’s Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) which argued that many tweets had breached French law.

UEJF had been pressing Twitter to exercise tighter control following a deluge of anti-semitic messages posted under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew).

Twitter later removed some of the offending tweets.

The union took legal action aimed at forcing Twitter to identify the authors of some of the posts. The court in Paris ruled the site must do this “within the framework of its French site”.

In October, Twitter suspended the account of a neo-Nazi group in Germany following a request from the government in Berlin.

That was the first time the US firm had applied a policy known as “country- withheld content” which allows it to block an account at the request of state authorities.

Twitter, which has 200m users, said it deployed the tool to restrict content in a single country rather than simply deleting comments.

Politicians in Germany welcomed the step to stop distributing the far-right Besseres Hannover group’s “hateful ideology”, adding sites including Facebook and YouTube had also complied with the request.

The legal suit in France came a week after France’s SPCJ Jewish security watchdog said anti-semitic acts surged by 45% since the start of the year and were given new impetus by attacks by Islamic extremist Mohamed Merah.

In March, Merah went on a shooting rampage in Toulouse, killing a rabbi, three Jewish children, and three French paratroopers, before being shot dead in a police siege.

Police in Britain have also investigated posts on the Twitter account of British National Party chief Nick Griffin who tweeted the address of a gay couple who won a landmark court ruling on discrimination, ending with the message: “Say no to heterophobia!”

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