Twitter in hot water again in France – this time, for Homophobic Hashtags

Twitter in hot water again in France – this time, for Homophobic Hashtags


The problem with giving into the requests of the government is that, well, you have to follow through. After an altercation with a few advocacy groups and the French government over some anti-Semitic trending hashtags earlier this year, Twitter promised to provide a streamlined access for users ( & the government) to signal inappropriate content. They also suggested that they would be turning over account information of users who use hate speech on the social network so that the French government can pursue those users for violating France’s free speech laws.

As a quick reminder, France’s free speech laws, unlike those of the US, do not permit hate speech, including racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise offensive comments.

Now Twitter’s in trouble this week after a gay rights advocacy group IDAHO France said it will seek justice in court from Twitter for, as the group claims, ‘allowing the hashtag to prosper and trend” [source: Numerama]. This lines up pretty well with what the French government said Twitter would get in trouble over if it did not affect change in the way it allows advocacy groups & the government to signal & remove hate speech from the social network.

Twitter got into similar trouble in the UK this past month after feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez was threatened with rape by ‘trolls’ after she won her case to get a woman, renowned British author Jane Austen, placed on the back of British currency, making the former trend of having only men’s faces appear. Twitter is still fighting the PR nightmare over in the UK, and will have to spread its resources across the channel to calm concerns inside the Hexagon.

I’m sure that, when Twiter planned out its European & International expansion, it didn’t foresee this. After all, predecessors like Facebook & Google have been operating in Europe for years, and, while they’ve combated concerns of privacy & tax evasion, they’ve never had to deal with the differing free speech laws in each country. Twitter, it seems, has hit a wall with its overly public follow-system, trends, hashtags, and mentions, which allow virtually anyone to contact & harass virtually anyone.

Hopefully Twitter will take some of its wasted #Music development resources and move them over to getting the aforementioned hate speech monitoring tools onboard, because, frankly, I’m not sure that Twitter can handle this much bad press as it looks to bring on board advertisers and prepare for an eventual IPO.

5 Responses

  1. Phillip Lamb (@phillamb168)

    The French system of ‘free speech’ is a disaster. We can all see that these particular hashtags are hate speech, but the problem with government regulation of speech is that those who are in power get to decide what’s hate speech and what’s not. And who’s to say that the French government won’t eventually say that political dissent is hate speech? That’s the risk.

    • Liam Boogar

      That is the ‘American’ lens through which I saw things when I first arrived in France and was confronted with this; however, the mistake is thinking that this is as new to France as it is to you. They have had their ideas of Free Speech as long as the US has had its ides, and political dissent has never been repressed. In fact, France has a stronger Communist voice than the US (try whispering ‘communism’ in a public space and see how far your free speech goes).

      The reality is that no one is unclear on what is and isn’t hate speech. It’s well-defined, keeping in mind the one single exception you’re pointing out. And, in fact, it’s not a division of the government that upholds these laws, but advocacy groups that enforce certain, more popular, types of hate speech, such as IDAHO, mentioned above. Like any other western country, prosecutors much prove that defendants indeed used hate speech (hence asking for access to Twitter user data in the case of alleged hate speech), there is no ‘hand of god’ that comes down from the government and sweeps away dissidents.

      Finally, I would hardly argue that the American views of Free Speech have allowed for a larger voice against the government – instead, discontent is displayed on a very base level (i.e: “Obama is [insert figure or political group that the general population agrees is ‘bad’]”), instead of developing the arguments beyond. The same goes for France and most other countries, but this is unrelated to free speech laws.

    • Peter

      Yes, an “American lens” with a clear view of “liberté.” You can claim cultural relativity and cite history all you want, but this is not a country that values free speech — period. Whether or not the “rules” are “well defined” or not is irrelevant. Instead of letting the “la peuple” be the judge of how stupid or hateful certain kinds of speech are and let the purveyor of such speech suffer the consequences in the marketplace of ideas (through open debate, by “boycotting” the individual, or any other number of ways), the French instead outsource the whole process to a few political elite who get to decide. Let us not forget that up until very recently it was a crime to “insult” the President, as it is in certain less developed countries. At least the US government takes the position, with extremely rare exceptions, that they have no role to play in regulating speech.

      And respectfully, Liam, your comment about communism is completely irrelevant to a discussion about free speech in America vs France. The US government does not have a policy against “whispering ‘communism'” in a public space. That is a fact. Certain topics may be politically “taboo” (due to the aforementioned marketplace of ideas) but they are not regulated or punished by the government.

    • Matthieu

      At least, it’s good that you’re not afraid to sound like a cliché “America is best”.

      How comfortable are you with the censorship from Facebook on Julien Courret “l’origine du Monde” because it prominently features a vaginal? Or the censorship of breastfeeding or breast cancer survivors because it features female body parts? As opposed to rapefest or bullying pages, which are free speech.

      How comfortable are you with the cyber bullying of female activists over twitter, and twitter not reacting?

      All bigotry comes with a good dose of hypocrisy. your marketplace of ideas is not better in the USA than in France. You prefer a censorship from corporations (medias, platform owners) because it happens to match your values. We prefer a censorship from elected individuals because it happens to match our values.

      But overall I’ll maintain that censorship from elected individuals is preferable over corporate censorship.

    • Matthieu

      Liam – thank you for your articulate view on free speech rules in France.

      Philip – The point you make is not wrong in itself, but different cultures have different values. I have the impression that Silicon Valley companies hold an extreme form of libertarianism that is even not representative of “mainstream America”. French value of liberty can be described as : for all to be free, one’s freedom must be limited only to where is starts to step on someone else’s freedom (please forgive the broken english). Is that so different from “mainstream America” or “Founding Fathers” ideal ? Then we differ in the matter of how to define and enforce these boundaries, of course. But please understand that Silicon Valley’s “let trolls be trolls” philosophy is not appealling to everybody – even in the US.

      In any case, SV companies need to understand other cultures in order to succeed abroad – or leave the field to better adapted “clones”.

      Technology Review had a very deep piece on the matter :

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