‘We’ve been used to remaining silent’: How social media has fuelled anti-Semitism in France

"Heil Hitler" and "Filthy Jews" creep into comments on a video report on a desecrated Jewish cemetery, pushing French authorities to raise pressure on social media to banish hate-based content.

'We've been used to remaining silent': How social media has fuelled anti-Semitism in France
Photo: AFP
Virulent anti-Semitism has become commonplace on forums like Facebook and Twitter while efforts to cull the loathing has struggled to make headway.
President Emmanuel Macron visited a desecrated Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, eastern France last week, but regional state-owned television France 3 Alsace was forced to cut the report from its Facebook page owing to dozens of scathing commentaries. 
In early January, Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa, who condemns the growing anti-Semitism, revealed that she had received thousands of insults, notably “Jewish whore”.
The internet and social media give anti-Semites a stage that widens their audience, and tools to organise networks, says Sacha Ghozlan, head of the French Jewish Students Union (UEJF).
“We have seen in the past 15 years that people who used to just express themselves in dark basements now have a much bigger audience,” Ghozlan told AFP.
And the internet allows such people “to ally anti-Semites of varied and normally opposite tendencies on shared hatred of Jews,” he added, pointing to groups at the extreme right and left. 

'You feel the hate rising': Jews in Paris speak out about rise in anti-SemitismPhoto: AFP

'Thousands' of hate messages
What is virtual violence for some has become very real for others, Ghozlan said.
“If we are seeing hate messages multiplying on walls in Paris it is also because for too long we've been used to remaining silent and not responding to hate messages that are posted by thousands each day on the internet,” he added.
The UEJF has fought online hate speech for 20 years, and in 2013 it convinced judicial officials to order Twitter to suppress tweets associated with hashtags such as “UnBonJuif” (A Good Jew, suggesting the ending “is a dead Jew”), #SiMaFilleEpouseUnNoir (If my daughter marries a Black), or #SiMonFilsEstGay (If my son is gay).
Social media are also now obliged to furnish IP addresses of racist or homophobic tweets, and to provide a global platform so that such messages can be signalled to network managers, he said.
Former Twitter boss Dick Costolo acknowledged in 2015 that it had lagged in tackling online attacks, and it has since improved ways of highlighting hostile content and blocking it.
In mid-February, a Twitter spokeswoman said its top priority was untroubled dialogue, and that technological investments had seen a 214 percent leap in 
preventive interventions last year and “a drop in the number of alerts.”
But Ghozlan insisted that “there is a lot more work to do,” citing the dozens of insults, threats, hate-filled and defamatory comments he receives on 
an almost daily basis.
He protested meanwhile that the hunt for hate content was in the end a matter for victims. 
ANALYSIS: The yellow vests and France's new wave of anti-Semitism
Photo: AFP
Platform responsibility
“Major platforms repeat that we must alert them to content, but we are not the Net's rubbish collectors, we do not want to spend our days doing that,” he said.
Rather, social networks should automatically eliminate hate messages, as they do now “for content that violates copyrights or is paedephile” in nature.
Offensive visual content is most often rejected before it even reaches the Net, thanks to artificial intelligence programmes, but it is a different story for abuse and insults, which require human intervention.
Some insults can be allowed moreover, depending on the context and who is posting them (such as a victim who quotes remarks or a minority that seizes upon an expression to empty it of malicious meaning).
The French government hopes to have legislation ready by May that will force online platforms to take more responsibility. 
The UEJF believes the best way is to hit them is in the wallet, by imposing a fine “indexed with their French revenues, if the hate content has not been deleted within 24 hours,” Ghozlan said.

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French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.