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Another French Request To Twitter Re: Anti-Semitic Content
Adam Holland, Chilling Effects, October 26, 2012
Abstract: UPDATED 11/02/12
Following close on the heels of its first ever geo-specific blockage in Germany last week, Twitter has recently received a request from the French Jewish Students Union- LUnion des Etudiants Juifs de France (UEJF), as well as from Jaccuse !... - action internationale pour la justice (AIPJ) to suppress any content tagged with the hashtag "#unjuifmort" and to render access to Twitter impossible for those responsible including both the creator of the tag and the founder of the movement.
To wit: "Mes clientes vous demandent en conséquence officiellement par la présente, et au besoin vous mettent en demeure d'agir promptement pour supprimer ces contenus manifestement illicites ou d'en rendre promptement l'accès impossible."
More details can be found in the notice itself.
Chilling Effects will post more information as it becomes available.
In the initial announcement, in what can only be a shout-out to U.S> Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous, but often mis-interpreted statement about free speech not guaranteeing the right to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater, Jonathan Hayoun, President of UEJF, analogizes the "wave" of anti-Semtic hate messages on Twitter to a fiery conflagration that must be stopped. Pushing the metaphor still further, Hayoun goes on to say that it is now necessary to "prevent fires", and make sure that "'arsonists' cannot continue to speak with impunity."
Given that Holmes was defending the right of the U.S. Government to prosecute domestic dissenters for criticizing the draft, Hayoun's comparison seems at best perhaps a little over the top. But of course, French law on speech is quite different from that of the U.S.
The Berkman Center's Digital (formerly Citizen) Media Law Project have a very nice write-up by guest blogger Marie-Andrée Weiss on the law and principles at stake.
"Rushing to delete speech is certainly not in the interest of freedom of speech, but it may not be in the interest of organizations fighting racism either. Hate speech needs to be balanced by thoughtful responses, and that needs time, unless hate speech creates an immediate danger to indiviudals. This did not seem to be the case in this instance, so let's hope for some continued time and effort to think it over."
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, article 11, states:
The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.
However, "The Press Law of 1881, as amended, guarantees freedom of the press, subject to several exceptions. The Pleven Act of 1972 (after Justice Minister René Pleven) prohibits incitement to hatred, discrimination, slander and racial insults. The Gayssot Act of 1990 prohibits any racist, anti-Semite, or xenophobic activities, including Holocaust denial. The Law of 30 December 2004 prohibits hatred against people because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability." -- Wikipedia entry on freedom of speech
Compare, as just one example, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
The French minister of Justice has warned Twitter that it has a duty to uphold French law, (though I presume only in France.)
She went on to say that the Tweets in question were completely antithetical to French values and foundational principles, that the "virtual" nature of the conduct made it no less real, and that the courts should be able to learn the identities of those involved.
On October 23, after this initial back and forth with Twitter, the UEJF sent Twitter a second notice, linked to above, concerning a new hashtag "#unjuifmort".
On October 28th, the UEJF released a new statement concerning their demands to Twitter and Twitter's ongoing response. This new announcement appears to deal only with that content, the corresponding request, and Twitter's response. No mention is made of the "#unjuifmort" hashtag in the October 28th releases.
Intriguingly, in the wake of Twitter's initial removal of the "#unbonjuif" tagged material, the "#unjuifmort" tag is apparently being used not only to mark overtly anti-Semitic content but to protest censorship or argue for freedom of speech.
Perhaps most interesting with respect to the long-term contours of this debate is UEJF President Hayoun's statement that "«Nous ne voulons pas laisser courir ce sentiment dimpunité très vivace chez les internautes qui croient quon peut tout dire sur Internet"