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France investigates '#gays must die' tweets
Twitter has faced a barrage of complaints after a spate of homophobic tweets and hashtags in French earlier in August. A French court has opened a probe, it emerged on August 28th. Photo: westm/Flickr

France investigates '#gays must die' tweets

Published: 28 Aug 2013 17:30 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Aug 2013 17:30 GMT+02:00

French prosecutors have opened a formal investigation into a recent flurry of homophobic tweets, after a French group fighting anti-gay hate speech filed a complaint against Twitter, legal sources revealed on Wednesday.

The French branch of the IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) Committee lodged a complaint earlier this month when tweets appeared on August 10th and 11th with the hashtags #gaysmustdie  (#LesGaysDoiventDispaîratreCar”) and #letsburngays ( #BrulonsLesGaysSurDu).

"These illicit tweets on Twitter's site characterise the offence of public incitement to discrimination, to hatred or national, racial or religious violence," the complaint read.

"Despite alerts, Twitter allowed a homophobic atmosphere to develop on the social network and gave no serious response" to the tweets, the group said.

For her part, official government spokeswoman and Minister for Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem took to Twitter herself to denounce the trend.

“I condemn homophobic tweets. Our work with Twitter and groups against homophobia, is essential,” she said.

Je condamne les tweets homophobes. Notre travail avec Twitter et avec les associations contre l'homophobie est essentiel.

— Najat Belkacem (@najatvb) August 10, 2013

Twitter has faced calls to do more to prevent abuse, with tens of thousands of people so far signing an online petition calling for it to add a "report abuse" button to tweets.

“This is a completely blatant call for the death and murder of gay people. It is totally unacceptable,” Alexandre Marcel from IDAHO told The Local at the time.

“We support free expression, and we understand that there are some people who simply don’t like gay people, but this is a call for the extermination of the gay community,” he added.

“Twitter hasn’t deleted a single homophobic tweet, nor removed a single homophobic hashtag from its list of most popular trending terms.”

“Could you imagine being a 17 or 18-year-old gay person logging on to Twitter, which, remember, is most popular among young people, and seeing messages that call for you to be killed?," Marcel added.   

Despite inquiries by The Local, Twitter has so far refused to offer an official statement on either the complaint by IDAHO France or the issue of anti-gay hate speech in general.

The company's head of safety, Del Harvey (@delbius), responded in a merely personal capacity to Minister Belkacem's tweet to, saying: "We agree and will continue to work closely with the associations on this important issue."

A Twitter spokeswoman, however, refused to clarify what concrete actions the company was considering taking as part of that work.

In July, The Local reported how the US website was forced by a French court’s ruling to hand over information identifying Twitter users who had published anti-Semitic comments, including under the term #UnBonJuif (A good Jew).

Speaking after the court’s decision in January, lawyer Philippe Schmidt told The Local that remarks made on Twitter should be treated the same as if they were made in any public forum.

“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,” he said.

Legal sources close to the case told AFP on Wednesday the official probe into the homophobic tweets was opened on August 14th.

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The Local/AFP (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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