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Twitter: France leads world in battling abuse

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Twitter: France leads world in battling abuse
When it comes to cracking down on abusive tweets, one country leads the way. Photo: Getty/AFP
13:08 CET+01:00
When it comes to countries demanding Twitter remove abusive or illegal tweets France stands out well ahead of the pack. Is it something to be proud of or is it a sign of a growing infringement on basic civil liberties?

Either France’s nanny state tendencies have run amok or it’s a vigorous defender of its most vulnerable citizens. Whatever the reason the country grabbed the dubious distinction of being the world’s top demander for the deletion of abusive tweets last year.

In the second half of 2013 French government agencies, police and rights organizations made 306 deletion requests to Twitter, according to the company’s transparency report released on Thursday.

The global total for that period was only 365, which means France accounted for a whopping 87 percent of all the requests.

One explanation for the number of demands made by French authorities centres around the number of homophobic tweets that were made in the year that France legalised gay marriage.

In August last year The Local reported that French authorities were investigating after a hashtag appeared under the title "Gays Must Die".

Speaking at the time 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.

A furious Alexandre Marcel from IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) told The Local at the time: “This is a completely blatant call for the death and murder of gay people. It is totally unacceptable,” 

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

The rise in homophobic tweets and the pressure on French authorities to crack down on them could explain why most requests made to Twitter were made in the second half of the year. 

The country made only three deletion requests in the first six months of 2013.

Demands to delete tweets were not just made by official state bodies, organisations like gay rights group SOS-Homophobie, were also behind many requests, Le Monde reported. However Twitter did not provide a breakdown of where the requests came from. 

Twitter has also came under pressure from French authorities in 2012 when a number of anti-Semitic hashtags were created

In October 2012, France's Union of Jewish Students lodged a legal complaint to try to force twitter to take down many offending tweets that had flooded the site under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew), with examples including: "#agoodjew is a dead Jew".

In the end the French government was spurred into action and in January 2013 a court ordered the social media giant, to turn over user info on the offending accounts.

Twitter said however it only granted about a third of the deletion requests, which meant 133 tweets were pulled from the network on France’s behalf in the last half of 2013. 

Even without France the number of deletion requests has been growing each year. Twitter said it got only six requests from the whole world in the first half of 2012. 

The same goes for user info inquiries which climbed from 849 at the start of 2013 to 1,410 in in the second half of 2014.

It's also interesting to note that France asked 57 times for Twitter to hand over personal data on users in the last half of 2013, which put in in the top of five of countries making similar requests. The United States led the pack with 833 requests for users' personal details that period.

For a French internet watchdog  group the use of deletion requests were manisfestations of a troubling trend toward silencing the public debate online.

"If it had only been requests from judicial authorities, it would have been worrying trend because we increasingly and reflexively use censorship," Co-founder of La Quadrature du Net Jérémie Zimmermann told The Local.

"But what this report shows is that it’s also the administrative authorities and that makes these figures even scarier. This censorship is more and more in the hands of people who are not judges." 

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