French Student Group Sues Twitter (Again) For $50 Million (Again) Over Tweets It Doesn't Like

from the how-do-you-say-publicity-stunt-in-french? dept

Three years ago, we wrote about a crazy story in which the Union of Jewish French Students (UEJF) was suing Twitter for $50 million, claiming that the fact that an anti-semitic hashtag started trendng violated some sort of anti-hate speech law in France. Twitter, somewhat ridiculously, actually agreed to remove the tweets in question, saying they were offensive. Even after that, UEJF demanded that Twitter also reveal the identities of everyone who tweeted the hashtag... and won (not the money, but Twitter was told to hand over the user info)! Yeah, France is not a big supporter of free speech, we get it, but this is still ridiculous.

At the time, Twitter claimed that the whole thing was really a publicity stunt for UEJF:
"We've been in continual discussions with UEJF," a Twitter spokesperson told CNET. "As yesterday's new filing shows, they are sadly more interested in grandstanding than taking the proper international legal path for this data."
Apparently, it's time to ramp up the grandstanding again, as reports are now spreading that the same group has now sued Twitter yet again, and once again for $50 million, and (somewhat incredibly) in all of the tech press coverage I'm reading of this, none seem to mention the lawsuit from three years ago. Of course, this time it's not just Twitter, but YouTube and Facebook that are also being sued for $50 million. And it's not over a trending hashtag, but rather just a bunch of obnoxious tweets:
In this "first mass test of social networks," the groups uncovered 586 instances of content that was "racist, anti-Semitic, denied the Holocaust, homophobic (or) defended terrorism or crimes against humanity," the joint statement said.

Only a fraction of these postings were deleted by the host organisations within a "reasonable time," as required under a 2004 French law: four percent on Twitter, seven percent on YouTube and 34 percent on Facebook.
Look, there are a lot of terrible people who say terrible stuff on the internet. That's kind of a thing that happens on the internet. And, no, it's not very nice. But it takes an incredible leap in logic to take that fact and say... "Hey, let's sue the internet companies for this." In the US, of course, such a lawsuit would be immediately laughed out of court for infringing on the First Amendment. You can say ignorant stuff in America and it won't lead to $50 million dollar lawsuits against the technology you used to say your ignorant stuff. Now, as we've discussed in the past, American companies should be protected from these kinds of ridiculous lawsuits by the SPEECH Act, which rejects foreign judgments that wouldn't survive First Amendment scrutiny in the US. But, of course, that won't do much good for internet giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- all of whom have a strong presence in France, including employees. The courts can still target all of that.

But, really, UEJF is being completely idiotic here:
"It's a mystery whether moderating teams in social media are actually working," said Sacha Reingewirtz, president of the UEJF.

Dominique Sopo, head of SOS-Racisme, said the social media giants were hypocritical.

"These platforms seem more shocked about content with bare breasts, which is swiftly censored, than about incitement to hatred," Sopo said.

"Our legal step aims at getting the authorities to apply the law so that these organisation submit to it in full."
First of all, the quote from Reingewirtz is ridiculous. It's something someone says when they have absolutely no sense of the sheer scale of what these companies deal with. They don't scan every new post or video because that's simply impossible. And while Sopo at least has a point about Facebook's prude sensibilities, that doesn't necessary apply to the other platforms... and also, is a very different thing. And, really, if you're trying to get platforms to broadly censor a class of content, it seems like a rather strange way to go about it by then mocking the very same companies for blocking a class of content that you don't happen to find offensive.

Who knows where this ends up, though given that France is the same country that once declared Yahoo's CEO to be a war criminal, because someone used Yahoo's auction service (yes, children, Yahoo once competed directly with eBay in auctions) to auction off some Nazi memorabilia, it may not end well for those companies. The whole thing is ridiculous though. Even if you think saying stupid, ignorant, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic things should be against the law, at the very least focus on the people who actually said that stuff, rather than the technologies people used to say them.
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Filed Under: censorship, france, free speech, intermediary liability, publicity stunt, tweets, uejf
Companies: facebook, twitter, uejf, youtube

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 10:36am

    The problem I'm finding is that European courts are going to try and force social media to censor content being posted by users in the United States. Facebook already has survived far too long and I'm shocked that they haven't been shuttered yet.

    If social media networks start censoring content being posted by users in the United States, it could be the push that users need to abandon those social media networks in favor of those who will protect their constitutional, civil and human rights.

    What I find deplorable is that European groups are trying to censor content being posted by American users.

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