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Freedom of Speech or Platform for Hate Speech?

This week the microblogging site ‘Twitter’ has signed a deal with American Express to allow customers to make financial transactions through merely ‘tweeting’ a message to vendors. This is another great leap for the site which many slammed in its early days as a bizarre copy-cat act of the ‘Facebook’ mini-feed. Since those early days twitter has gone from strength to strength with the site’s users breaking the news of Michael Jackson’s death, helping trace trapped people after the Haiti earthquake and advancing social campaigns like #spitformum. But does twitter have another side? Is the platform the place to connect and feel the pulse of world opinion or is it a tool of an ever growing band of hate trolls, digital weirdos and anti-Semites? Nastassja Zenou brings us a report of Twitter, Union des Etudiants Juifs de France and a High Court Case.

UEJF (Union of French Jewish Students) was created in 1944 with its primary goal being to defend the rights of Jewish Students in France. The association is managed by Jonathan Hayoun and is an executive member of WUJS. - Starting October 2012 the activists at UEJF who held Twitter accounts began to see anti-Semitic and racist hashtags. #Sijetaisnazi# (#IfIwasnazi) and #Unbonjuif (#Agoodjew), with shocking comments adjoining , were the most trended tweets being followed by more than 50,000 twitters – all in less than fifteen days. - That buzz, which was claimed to have begun as a joke from a user, grew and spread throughout Europe. During which Twitter refused to react and stayed quiet leaving the doors open to an anti-Semitic propaganda and hate speech. In the meantime, UEJF expressed its disappointment on the wave of hate to Twitter , who once again did not react. - Due to the ongoing silence, UEJF decided to make an unprecedented step and sue Twitter on 16th of October. It took a further three days for Twitter to delete the hashtags after being placed under further pressure from different organanizations such as SOS Racisme and Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions. - The trial started the 8th January 2013. UEJF announced its principal goal as countering anti-Semitism on the social network and that it should denounce racists comments, make an apology of crimes against humanity and incitement of racial hatred. Secondly, UEJF requested from Twitter to report, with the authorization from the judge, all the confidential data about users who had used such racist hashtags. - The 24th January 2013 the trial court of Paris gave its feedback and ordered Twitter to provide all the data about all the users who used anti-Semitics and racists tweets in the past months. Besides this, the trial court insisted on the fact that Twitter set up a device in order to respect the laws of all countries in which he is established and not just that of the USA. - The consequences of the trial are that Twitter has to be me more aware and conscious about the power his has towards his users and to be more careful in monitoring them in the future. Many others social networks such as Facebook already has a system that gives the opportunity to the users to report abuses .Thanks to the sad event UEJF and others will be able to, in the future, react again to those type of cases and is more stronger now. It also gives awareness to other social networks to be more careful and to the users to be more moderate in their public comments. Besides, the consequences go well beyond this, putting on the table the issue of expression freedom and in what extent, it can apply and with which limits – especially on the net.


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