Yesterday the French court ruled that Twitter has two weeks to put in place a system by which the French government can easily track and identify users who post hate speech, specifically antisemitic and racist speech. This announcement comes after twitter trends like #SiMonFilsEstGay (“If My son is Gay”) and #UnBonJuif (“A good jew”) were trending in France, with the threads filled with a variety of hate speech. The courts have said that, should Twitter not comply within two weeks, it will be charged a fine 1000€/day.
As Arstechnica’s Cyrus Farivar pointed out, Twitter has already set precedent for complying with local laws surrounding freedom of speech. Last October in Germany, Twitter agreed to shut own a neo-nazi account, and there have been investigations in British accounts based on Twitter messages, according to the AFP. Twitter’s precedent of applying country-based blacklisting/account suspension is a first for US companies, who traditionally carry their understanding of “freedom of speech” to Europe. In fact, Europe has a completely different definition of these freedoms – many member states have banned hate speech, something which US freedom of speech fighters often argue is a “slippery slope to government censureship,” though somehow the curve from “say whatever you want” to “anything that isn’t hate speech” seems like less of a slope than “nothing against the government’s agenda.”
It is hard to say whether Twitter will get a system on board in time, but it seems more or less understood that it is in Twitter’s best interest to not have hate speech trending on their site, whether pushed by the government or not; however, from a business perspective, it can become quite costly to enact custom systems for each country’s regulation. Some argue that censoring any form of online speech is worse than the hate speech itself, though clearly the French government disagrees.
The court ruling was announced on Twitter, which unsurprisingly resulted in an onslaught of more hate speech – hasn’t the French government ever heard of trolls?
Two weeks seems like quite a short time to get such a system up and running, though it’s likely that Twitter already has some internal monitoring system, as its been pointed out in the past that some offensive accounts ‘just disappear’ sometimes. I’d sure like to see the government set 2 week deadlines for its own web development projects.