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French students take Twitter to court over anti-Semitic tweets


The 'Twitter' logo is seen on a tablet screen on December 4, 2012 in Paris.


Lionel Bonaventure

France’s largest Jewish student union is taking Twitter to court, demanding that the micro-blogging website divulge the personal information of French users posting anti-Semitic messages.

The French Union of Jewish Students argues that Twitter is providing a platform for hate speech by allowing anonymous users to post anti-Semitic tweets. An initial hearing in the case was held on Tuesday in Paris, with the court expected to make a ruling as early as Jan. 25.

"Today, the internet has become a forum of racist speech. People are free to say what they want with impunity and we need to stop that," Jonathan Hayou, of the student union, told Al-Jazeera.

Last October, the Twitter hashtag “#unbonjuif” (#agoodjew) began circulating as part of anti-Semetic statements like “#agoodjew is a dead Jew.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the hashtag became the third most popular in France. 

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Over the weekend, the hashtag #SiJetaisNazi (#IfIWereANazi) began trending as well. 

Twitter, a US-based company, has stated that under American law the company is not allowed to release the personal information of its users without a court order. Differences between French and American laws on speech have produced “a huge void, a question mark“ in the case, Twitter attorney Alexandra Neri reportedly told Agence France-Presse. Twitter has stated that it will only honor the rulings of the US court. 

A Twitter spokesperson speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency declined to comment about the case, but reiterated Twitter’s policy not to regulate user generated content. While Twitter does not delete its users’ tweets, it has suspended accounts found violating US law or the website’s terms and conditions.

Recently, several accounts belonging to hackers associated with Anonymous and other hacker collectives have been suspended. Hackers often create back-up Twitter accounts to use in case their main accounts are suspended. 

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The French Union of Jewish Students isn't the only group calling for Twitter to release the personal data of users spreading what may be hate speech. They include I Accuse! International Action for Justice; the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism; SOS Racism; and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People.