• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Tête-à-tête
Is France right to make Twitter ID racist users?
Lawyer Philippe Schmidt (left) favours the new law in France. Photo: P Schmidt / Internet rights activist Rick Falkvinge, (right) however, cerainly does not. Photo: Jon Âslund.

Is France right to make Twitter ID racist users?

The Local · 25 Jan 2013, 18:23

Published: 25 Jan 2013 18:23 GMT+01:00

On Thursday a French court ruled that Twitter must release details of anyone found to be posting racist or anti-Semitic messages on its social networking site.

The ruling follows a legal complaint lodged in October by France's Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) which argued that numerous tweets had breached French law, which prohibits incitement to racial hatred.

The decision marked a victory for several anti-racism campaign groups but some internet rights activists say it was a dark day for freedom of speech.

So, was the court right to force Twitter to hand over information on racist tweeters?

Yes, says lawyer Philippe Schmidt: 

“This decision does not represent an attack on freedom of speech. On the contrary, this helps to perfect freedom of speech.

Saying this is against freedom of speech is completely stupid. It is like saying that banning someone from being able to drive at 250kph through a town centre is against their freedom to drive. If we only allow crazy people to drive cars no one will be driving in the future. There always has to be a limit.

People tweet abuse that is just not acceptable. We just want Twitter to give us the details of these people so we can take them to court.

The courts might not agree with us but at least we can try. People simply need to take responsibility. People can’t just say on Twitter they are going to kill Barack Obama or François Hollande. Imagine the reaction if they did that.

Having freedom of speech does not mean you have a right to say what you want and a right to hide behind your anonymity.  People on Twitter do not need to be anonymous. They should not have special treatment. It should be the same as if they said it on the street.

This is an extremely important decision in the wider context of the fight against racism and anti-Semitism. Twitter themselves recognized the tweets were anti-Semitic because they took them down. Our work spans many countries and we know these kind tweets have consequences in the real world, often leading to violence or encouraging people to have views they otherwise may not have had.

The Internet must be seen as the real world and just like in the real world you cannot do whatever you want.”

Philippe Schmidt is one of the French lawyers involved in bringing this week’s case to court. Schmidt is also the president of the International Network against CyberHate (INACH) and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA).

No, says internet rights activist Rick Falkvinge:  

"There has been a recent trend in France and other European countries towards punishing speech that is hateful towards minorities.

This is perfectly understandable, but if anyone seriously thinks that France or any other society can root out ‘bad’ opinions just by banning them, they haven’t learned from history.

Time and time again, we’ve seen that the only antidote to intolerant views, is allowing more views to be heard, not less, so that everyone can decide for themselves who’s wrong and who’s right.

The only thing that can defeat the trolls is sunlight.

Of course, a line must be drawn when it comes to advocating violence against a group of people, but ultimately, freedom of expression must include the freedom of stupid people to be wrong.

Story continues below…

Moreover, it’s worrying to hear the French court determine that unpopular opinions don’t deserve the same level of protection as popular ones, and doubly worrying that the court has asked Twitter to give up the anonymity of the users expressing those opinions.

Anonymity is an essential layer of protection for those in society who have unpopular views and want to share them.

Look at the founding of the United States. The Federalist Papers were written under the name ‘Publius’, because they called for high treason against Britain, which was punishable by death. If the Founders had been forced to reveal their identities, we wouldn’t have the United States of America.

When we send letters, we can put our names on the front of the envelope, in the letter, or not at all. If we respect the right to send letters anonymously, why shouldn’t the same principle apply to Twitter?

France, just like every society, must be sure to protect the rights that our forefathers fought and died for, and extend them to our children."

Rick Falkvinge is a Swedish IT entrepreneur and digital rights activist who founded the world's first Pirate Party. In 2011, Foreign Policy magazine named him of its Top 100 Global Thinkers.

If you have views that you want to share with us, do it @TheLocalFrance

Your comments about this article

2013-01-29 16:23:47 by Eric
Who decides what is "racist"? We are seeing the beginnings of speech being controlled by government. Leftist have always wanted to control what people on the right say. Those on the right have been much more tolerate. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and other leftist have done this on a huge scale.
2013-04-21 15:58:39 by MaxxMurxx
The misconception is that someone who says "I could kill Obama" is likely to do it and therefore should be punished like the one attempting it. We frequently say, even only if to ourselves: "Sometimes I could kill my children/spouse/mother/mother-in-law/grandmother", but we never do it. It is just an expression to describe strong emotions. Those emotions will prevail even if the words for them change or will be suppressed at all. The question is what we DO with such emotions, not if we have them or if we describe them in our own words.
Today's headlines
Euro 2016
France survive Irish scare to make quarter-final
Antoine Griezmann scored two second-half goals. Photo: AFP

Antoine Griezmann broke Irish hearts with two second-half goals as France came from behind to claim a 2-1 win over ten-man Republic of Ireland and move into the Euro 2016 quarter-finals on Sunday.

'Transatlantic trade deal not good for EU': French PM
"I can tell you frankly, there cannot be a transatlantic treaty agreement. This agreement is not on track," Valls said. Photo: AFP

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday blasted a planned EU-US trade treaty, saying the ambitious deal was against "EU interests."

Euro 2016
Five things you didn't know about France and Ireland
Photos: AFP

France and Ireland have more than a few interesting connections. Here are our favourite five.

Mixed reaction from the French as UK votes for Brexit
Photo: AFP

The Brexit vote has prompted a mixed bag of reactions from the French public.

Opinion - Brexit seen from abroad
'Today it's hard not to feel ashamed to be British'
Photo: AFP

Apologies France, we may have just messed up your country too.

Brexit
French in UK: 'Brexit vote is clearly against foreigners'
The French Bookshop in London's Kensington. Photo: AFP

Spare a thought for the French people living in the UK right now. They didn't even get to vote.

Hollande: Brexit vote 'a grave test for Europe'
Photo: AFP

President Francois Hollande said on Friday that he already regrets the UK's "painful choice".

Brexit - Property
How Brexit could now scupper that dream move to France
A house of sale in La-Faute-sur-Mer (Vendée). Photo: Frank Perry/AFP

The dream move to France may have to be put on hold or simply dropped.

Brexit
Brexit limbo: What happens next for Brits in France?
Brits won't be forced home, of course, but are forced to live in limbo for a while. Photo: AFP

So what happens now for Brits in France? Nothing too dramatic, but a lot of uncertainty amid legal limbo.

Brexpats on Brexit
Brexit: Life for Brits in France will get more complicated
Will France still be paradise for British expats after a Brexit? Photo: Simon/FlickR

After Britain voted to leave the EU, here's a look at what an EU legal expert had to say about the possible knock on effects for expats in France.

Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Gallery
Ten reasons why you should think about becoming French
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Brexit: Life for Brits in France 'will get more complicated'
Culture
20 English words that 'should be banished' from French
National
Best Briehaviour: A guide to French cheese etiquette
Features
And the best city in France for expats to live in is...?
Society
Forget bikes, Paris is set to roll out scooter rentals
National
'We fear for our safety': French police feel the strain
Lifestyle
Why Rennes (and not Paris) is the best city in France for expats to live
National
Why are the French losing appetite for baguettes?
Lifestyle
Naturism booms in France as young eager to ditch clothes
Lifestyle
Is working life better in London or Paris?
National
Dear Americans: Please come to Paris
National
It's official (kind of): French work fewest hours in EU
And the best football fans of Euro 2016 in France are?
National
Paris has wettest spring in 100 years and it's hitting morale
Police murders remind France of complexity of terror threat
National
IN PICTURES: Labour law protests in Paris turn ugly
National
Double murder just latest jihadist attack on French police and soldiers
International
French police appear unprepared for hooligan threat at Euro 2016
Sport
An A to Z guide of what to expect in France for Euro 2016
Sport
France bans matches from being shown on cafe terraces
National
Readers' views: 'If Brexit happens I'm becoming French just to stay in EU'
Technology
Should this be the new Metro map for Paris?
2,726
jobs available