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Twitter Sued For $50M For Refusing To Identify Anti-Semitic Users 335

Posted by Soulskill
from the feeding-the-trolls dept.
redletterdave writes "After a French civil court ruled on Jan. 24 that Twitter must identify anyone who broke France's hate speech laws, Twitter has since refused to identify the users behind a handful of hateful and anti-Semitic messages, resulting in a $50 million lawsuit. Twitter argues it only needs to comply with U.S. laws and is thus protected by the full scope of the First Amendment and its free speech privileges, but France believes its Internet users should be subject to the country's tighter laws against racist and hateful forms of expression."
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Twitter Sued For $50M For Refusing To Identify Anti-Semitic Users

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  • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:21PM (#43250071) Journal

    Is an internet company responsible to the country that it operates from, or is it responsible to every country that they can be reached from?

    The second would be a remarkably scary result.

    • by iamhassi (659463) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:25PM (#43250123) Journal

      Is an internet company responsible to the country that it operates from, or is it responsible to every country that they can be reached from?

      The second would be a remarkably scary result.

      This stuff has already gone to court. Google execs were charged with crimes in italy for YouTube videos showing bullying. Google ignored it and Italy couldn't do anything. If Internet was ruled by every law in every country then it wouldn't exist. Sorry France you lose.

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <<ten.frow> <ta> <todhsals>> on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:49PM (#43250537)

        Is an internet company responsible to the country that it operates from, or is it responsible to every country that they can be reached from?

        The second would be a remarkably scary result.

        This stuff has already gone to court. Google execs were charged with crimes in italy for YouTube videos showing bullying. Google ignored it and Italy couldn't do anything. If Internet was ruled by every law in every country then it wouldn't exist. Sorry France you lose.

        I think Italy arrested a few Google execs from Google Italy, which wouldn't be as scary - in which case as long as Twitter has no French connections (no servers, etc) then France can't do anything. If they do, France can go after the French company.

        (Which is basically OP's point 1 - since the company has operations in various countries, they have to comply with the law, but only in those countries).

        At the very worst, if a twitter exec was passing through France, they could potentially be arrested until the fine is paid for, I suppose.

        Since I don't think Twitter has any assets or anything in France, the French government can't do a thing unless they can convince the rest of the EU that it's worth pursuing through other EU assets. Maybe. They can also arrest any twitter exec passing through France, I suppose - the US does it.

        Of course, this would mean that while Twitter is protected by US laws, it's also subject to the whims of the US government, including those ones on copyright infringement and such.

        • by DavidD_CA (750156) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:05PM (#43250769) Homepage

          It amuses me to think that some low-level IT guy from Twitter might one day go to Paris for his honeymoon ... only to get arrested at the airport until a $50 M fine is paid.

          • by bsDaemon (87307) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:16PM (#43250929)

            At that point, it almost sounds like kidnapping for ransom...

            • by longk (2637033)

              That's always the case when a corporation needs to pay. Simply because the corporation itself cannot be arrested. It may be easier for the CEO to be identified with the company than a low-level IT guy but I don't feel it's that black and white. The CEO is usually not the sole person in power and the low-level IT could have chosen to resign when he learned his company was breaking laws in his beloved Paris.

            • by sveinungkv (793083) on Friday March 22, 2013 @06:10PM (#43252255)

              At that point, it almost sounds like kidnapping for ransom...

              Why almost?

              Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor."

              (Augustine of Hippo in "City of God" book IV Chapter 4)

            • At that point, it almost sounds like kidnapping for ransom...

              Ahh, grasshopper, you only think there's a difference. You have taken your first step.

              Learn how memes rule the world -- how they are about getting large masses of people adopting them, in order to force themselves onto still more people.

              The content is irrelevant from this viewpoint.

              In one -- kidnapping for ransom, people who want money seize someone until they get it. In the other, people who want money seize someone until they get it.

              One thinks

          • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:42PM (#43251255)
            I would hope that even if someone can be arrested for contempt until the fine is paid, it would have to be someone with the authority to pay the fine. A low-level IT guy, or even a mid-level manager, couldn't pay the fine even if they agreed with the court ruling and wanted to pay.
          • Yea, because causing an international incident is really going to bode well for the French government...

          • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Friday March 22, 2013 @07:45PM (#43253197)
            Hey, it's already happened here in the USA for Dmitry Sklyarov [wikipedia.org] when he came to the USA to give a presentation. Look at the details at
            U.S. v. ElcomSoft and Skylarov [wikipedia.org] The case raised some concerns particularly since it involved an individual being prosecuted for activities that were fully legal in the country where they occurred.

            So Twitteronians doing twiittery things that are all legal in teh USA could get stopped, frisked, arrested, and jailed for having done things that are deemed to be illegal elsewhere in this great wide world. :>(

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:51PM (#43250565)

        Sorry France you lose.

        No surprises there.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:57PM (#43250625)
        The internet is "ruled" by whatever rules the host country allows (or is unable to fend off). In the case of Italy going after Google, the USA is the host country, and Google knows that it has nothing to fear because Italy doesn't have the ability to force the USA to hand anyone over for something that isn't a crime in the USA.

        But then on the flip side, you've got the USA going after people in the UK, New Zealand, etc, and succeeding despite the fact that no laws were broken in the host country because, this time around, the country doing the prosecuting does have the ability to force the host country to be its bitch.
        • Perfect solution (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Brett Buck (811747) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:09PM (#43250835)

          Google could just purchase Italy outright. I hear it will be rather a bargain. Problem solved!

        • by akozakie (633875) on Friday March 22, 2013 @08:00PM (#43253321)

          Exactly. There are only two fair solutions to this. Either you need to follow the law of all countries in which your service is reachable - fair, but against the spirit of the internet and perhaps not possible at all without self-filtering.

          OR: dear US, next time you want to enforce your own laws abroad - go F yourself. High time to be clear about this. The only law that should concern me is the law of the country I'm in at the moment - and possibly the law of my home country (the price of citizenship). Extraditions ONLY for crimes committed abroad. Zero effect of US law on others (and vice versa).

          Anyway this goes - we desperately need as many cases like this as possible. And, for visibility, we need collateral damage - executives landing in jail during Paris vacation with zero reaction to embassy's intervention, etc. That's the only way to make it clear that either laws get harmonized through negotiations (which can be blocked in a democracy, see ACTA) or they simply do not work outside the border.

          Otherwise it's not a fair world, just a dominium of the one country with the biggest guns. And if you're american and like that thought, learn some world history and consider the fact, that maybe not in 10 years, but in 50, 100, 200... it might not be the USA anymore. How would you like your grandchildren having to observe the laws of, say, China? Or the United States of Arabia, or whatever...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SternisheFan (2529412)
      How long until posting anonymously on sites like Slashdot is forbidden? (I can see an upside to this)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bungo (50628)

      For sure, it's responsible to any country that it can be successfully sued from.

      After all, it's just a company, being on the internet doesn't make it any different. It's like saying that all of those silly patents that replicate existing procedures are suddenly different and patentable because they do it on the computer.

      If the court system in a country can sue and get the ability to enforce a judgement, then the company is responsible to that country. If the share holders don't lose any money, then there's

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:30PM (#43250221) Homepage

      Is an internet company responsible to the country that it operates from, or is it responsible to every country that they can be reached from?

      Likely, it will come down to if they have a regional variant of their service or local servers.

      If there's only a single twitter.com, and it lives in the US, and everybody hits then likely not.

      But if there is a twitter.fr, and they have a presence in France and promote their service there -- well, then you really are going to be compelled to adhere to local laws. You can't have it both ways. One would hope that reasonably, if I do something in the country I live in, and it's legal, no other country should have any jurisdiction. That way you don't get someone being sued in France for something which is legal where they live. Because half of the internet would be getting sued in countries where saying certain things is illegal, even if they've never been there.

      Twitter can't promote their products in other countries, install infrastructure there, regionalize their product, but claim everything else is covered under US laws.

      Of course, that's great in theory -- who knows what a court would decide in reality.

      • by berashith (222128)

        isnt this what happened to eBay in Germany when they sold nazi memorabilia ? I think they had to alter the auctions to not display content to certain regions. Of course the difference here is that twitter is just enabling someone to shout really loudly, but you only have to hear it if you ask to know what the person is saying. France may not have to filter, but the French people who dont want to see what people all over the world are saying may not want to tune in to a service like this.

      • Twitter isn't just a web service. They make use of SMS gateways which means interacting with various national phone systems. So long as they purchase telecom services in foreign countries they risk subjugation to those countries laws.

    • Either are remarkably scary.

    • There is also the option that the Twitter could be responsible for handing over the records of tweets that originated from an IP address in France since the tweet would be committing a crime there. So if someone in the US made an anti-Semitic comment and the French courts wanted the user details then Twitter can tell them to get lost. But if the tweet was made in France then they should comply because the local law was broken.
      Now the article mentions that the French judge said that the French Internet
    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:05PM (#43250757)

      The moment an exec from Twitter steps within French jurisdiction (which extends a lot further than you think), arrests will be made for contempt of court - look at what happened to the British online gambling company execs arrested in the US for making gambling services available to US citizens, despite the entire infrastructure and company being based outside the US.

      Exactly the same situation as here.

    • Waiting? We've been through this before for almost the exact same issue when Yahoo! was sued by a French group for allowing the sale of Nazi memorabilia on their auction site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LICRA_v._Yahoo [wikipedia.org]!

      Yahoo lost, btw

    • by PRMan (959735)

      All the prosecutor has to do is point to Mega and Wikileaks, both cases in which the US prosecuted people who are

      1. not citizens

      2. never in the US

      • Wikileaks?

        We prosecuted someone from Wikileaks?

        When was this?

        Or are you suggesting that Holder TALKING about prosecuting someone is the same as actually prosecuting someone?

        If the latter, you need to learn more about how the law works.

    • Well ... the US certainly seems to think that it should be the latter, considering how much they like working on extraditions for things done while not in the US.

      To me it seems that France took a look at this policy and found it to be a grand idea.

  • Only Fair (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The US government expects websites worldwide to bow to its law, it seems perfectly reasonable for a US website to follow the laws of any foreign nation.

    Oh wait, neither of those things make any goddamn sense.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Those are sites that have a presence in the US, they had to go to the authorities in New Zealand to deal with the Megaupload problem, because the US has no jurisdiction over those servers in a foreign country.

      This is no different. The French can get outraged, but unless Twitter has a presence in France, the French laws don't apply as they aren't located in France and aren't French nationals either.

  • by HalAtWork (926717) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:28PM (#43250155)

    France believes its Internet users should be subject to the country's tighter laws against racist and hateful forms of expression.

    Then France can filter their internet. Why does Twitter have to do anything? If France wants censorship, they should implement it.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Why does Twitter have to do anything?

      Not knowing what Twitter's presence looks like in France, the first questions are: Do they have any offices/personnel there? Do they have any equipment? Is there a twitter.fr? Do they promote and regionalize the software to France?

      If any of those are true, Twitter is basically screwed in the same way Google was.

      If it's all in the US and not anywhere else, then Twitter will likely be safe.

      • Twitter have purchased twitter.fr, but it only redirects to their US site. They probably have done the same to every country code, to make sure squatters or scammers don't get them.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Twitter have purchased twitter.fr, but it only redirects to their US site. They probably have done the same to every country code, to make sure squatters or scammers don't get them.

          Then, arguably, for every country they're purchased that domain, promoted their software, taken any advertising revenue, employed staff, or otherwise "done business" -- then they might have to obey the local laws only as it pertains to their citizens and what they make available in that country.

          If you staunchly set up US only, do

          • Then, arguably, for every country they're purchased that domain, promoted their software, taken any advertising revenue, employed staff, or otherwise "done business" -- then they might have to obey the local laws only as it pertains to their citizens and what they make available in that country.

            Huh, and here I thought ICANN was in charge of divvying out domains, not individual nations...

      • Definitely not all in the US, but doesn't look like it's in France.

        https://twitter.com/jobs/international [twitter.com]

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Bzzzt, wrong answer. From the link you provided I can see at least 4 jobs posted in Paris, which oddly enough is in France.

          Which means Twitter "does business in France", and logically if France wants to sue them for the identities of French citizens who broke French law ... Twitter has no choice but to comply.

          • Nah. They can just fire those people. And then never travel to France.
          • by sjames (1099)

            Bzzzt, wrong answer. From the link you provided I can see at least 4 jobs posted in Paris, which oddly enough is in France.

            Shhh! Don't tell the Parisians

    • by clam666 (1178429) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:47PM (#43250499)

      Exactly. This is an issue for France vs. Internet. Not France vs. Twitter.

      If France decides it really doesn't want to hear tweets about Blue vs. Red states in the U.S., then they can bloody well create Le Carnivore on their own dime and filter those evil horrid thoughts that makes Jews or activists or whiners who never learned to deal with the world go Boo Hoo..

      This is like your little sister crying to mom because you said 'girls have cooties' instead of her cowgirling up and learning to deal with it. Don't want to hear about cooties? Solve your own problems. Don't like people being anti-semitic because it twists your nads? Handle your own homeland. Don't complain because someone, somewhere, is saying something you find "offensive". And stop bowing down to every sociopathic "activist" who thinks words kill rather than actual violence.

      Clearly France needs to hire Adria Richards to manage their twitter relations.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Exactly. This is an issue for France vs. Internet. Not France vs. Twitter.

        Not necessarily. If Twitter is doing business in France, they're bound by their laws -- hell, if they've registered the trademark in France they're probably bound by them.

        Imagine if a Chinese company set up shop in the US, and then said "We're a Chinese company, we're ignoring your laws". It wouldn't fly.

        So it's going to come down to the extent to which Twitter has any business presence in France -- and if they have any, they're goi

    • by Hatta (162192)

      France doesn't seem to understand that censorship is itself a hateful form of expression.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:29PM (#43250189) Homepage
    Twitter should send a letter stating: "We are an American company, doing business in America. We abide by American laws, not yours. We have no desire to abide by your laws or even to provide service to your country. If you don't like what we do, feel free to block us. But no one from our company will ever travel to France again. Good luck with your laws."

    Note, I have nothing against France. But all countries (including the USA), need to recognize that the internet will their citizens do business with foreign companies and that foreign companies are NOT required to obey their laws. It is up to the citizens of a country to obey that countries laws, not everyone in the world.

  • by srussia (884021) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:29PM (#43250195)
    France's nuclear power infrastructure can now be decommissioned, as they have coupled all the turbine generators to Voltaire's grave.
    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:56PM (#43250613)
      Given that it's Voltaire we're talking about, perhaps it would have sufficed to just connect the electrodes...but I'll be candid with you, regarding your optimism, are you sure they'd also get the necessary amperage?
  • While I commend this action, I am afraid that share holders may be upset with twitter taking a $50 million hit for their morals.
    • What $50 Million dollar hit? There is no hit. That's the point.
    • by BitterOak (537666)

      While I commend this action, I am afraid that share holders may be upset with twitter taking a $50 million hit for their morals.

      $50 million is nothing compared to the revenue they may lose if people no longer trust it as a place where they can post things without repercussions from foreign powers. (Although, to be honest, I don't really know what their revenues are or where they come from.)

    • What $50 million hit? How is France going to enforce a judgment (which they haven't even won yet, as a matter of fact)? "Pay us $50 million or we will make very angry faces at you."

  • If Twitter has any sort of physical presence in the country then they should have to follow their laws, be it offices, servers, sales people operating, etc.
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      um in the entire EU - there are such things as EU arrest warrants and France has a inquisitorial system of Justice
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        and France has a inquisitorial system of Justice

        NOBODY expects the inquisitorial system of justice ... ;-)

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to johnny hallyday.
      • there are such things as EU arrest warrants

        But you can't use them for this. EU arrest warrants can only be issued for criminal prosecutions or enforcing custodial sentences. If it doesn't involve being sent to prison for at least a year, they won't issue one.

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          Some countrys have been issuing them for trial offenses such as "possession of 3 ecstasy tablets, theft of two car tyres, driving under the influence of alcohol where the limit was not significantly exceeded and theft of a piglet"
  • I always post to the wrong one. so again.

    I read Twitters TOS as listed today (Mar 22 2013)

    "We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably
    believe is necessary to (i) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request..."
    https://twitter.com/tos [twitter.com] [twitter.com]

    Reading the translated article then wikipedia. The case was heard and judged by the
    Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris (Google Translate) a minor jurisdiction, that hears hears

  • After all most countries in the EU have similar law, Canada has similar laws(still) since the bill to strike down various parts of the hate speech laws are still stuck in the senate. The US is the odd ball out. Remember the next time someone starts screaming that hate speech laws are a good idea, they're not. This is spoken by someone who already lives under them. You have no "freedom of expression," you have limited expression as deemed by the government in a very and exceptionally narrowing scope as deemed by unelected bureaucrats in HRC's(human rights councils) who run tribunals outside the court system.

    • by myrikhan (1136505)

      This is spoken by someone who already lives under them. You have no "freedom of expression," you have limited expression as deemed by the government in a very and exceptionally narrowing scope as deemed by unelected bureaucrats in HRC's(human rights councils) who run tribunals outside the court system.

      Taken from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/03/17/supreme_court_reaffirmed_canadian_balance_on_free_speech_siddiqui.html [thestar.com]

      Anti-hate laws undermine free speech.

      No, said the court, they “appropriately balance . . . freedom of expression with competing Charter rights and other values — a commitment to equality and respect for group identity and the inherent dignity owed to all human beings.”

      Anti-hate laws breed political correctness, stifle debate.

      No, “hate speech l

      • by khallow (566160)
        As I see it, the only "balance" possible in this situation is to remove the hate speech laws. Canadian courts and tribunals are notorious for living in a fantasy land where crap law miraculously transforms into just law. The key problem:

        Hate speech is hard to define.

        The judges have defined it â" as that which âoea reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as likely to expose a person or persons to detestation and vilification on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.â They also provided âoea workable approachâ to combating it.

        Why would a reasonable person ever make this determination? The detestation and vilification is already there. It doesn't go away merely because you've criminalized playground language and certain conspiracy theories.

  • Al Jazeera [wikipedia.org], the Arabic news channel, is broadcast across most of Europe. Can France take action against it if it broadcasts any anti-Israeli material?

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday March 22, 2013 @04:02PM (#43250719)

      Anti-Israeli is not the same as anti-Semitic.

      Surely you can see the difference? Just like one might protest the actions of the US government while holding no ill will towards her people.

  • A fairly recent survey found the group of people who have the lowest opinion of the French people are the French people themselves. So, aren't they all taking to Twitter to complain about French people and violating their own law? Racism is racism, lol.
  • My cousin is going through boxes in the garage to get all my dead uncle's "I HATE FRANCE" shirts. We're selling them online once the washing machine finally gets the meth sweat.

    This has damaged my relationship with my French bulldog as well. She is contacting her lawyer in Paris after having seen a picture of herself holding a demeaning sign online.
  • we identify all the Semitic users. That way the anti-Semitic people will know who to direct their tweets to. ~

  • Does Twitter have a physical presence in France? If not, then the French government can fuck off. If they don't like it, they can block Twitter access to their citizens - I'm sure that will go over well....

  • I've never understood the motivation in censoring racism online.

    Posting slurs on Twitter is one of the least harmful things these morons could be spending their time doing.

  • The political environment added with each countries customs and beliefs will not let them just say "oh hah.. lol sorry, forgot it's the interenetz!"

    Afghanistan/Iran and other countries already censor. Many will follow. It's the only logical, but unfortunate, recourse a country has over something they cannot otherwise control. Or, you just make your own state-sponsored trucks 'n tubes [aljazeera.com]

  • Does Twitter even have a physical/legal presence in France? It not, the most France can do is force its ISPs to block Twitter and I find that unlikely.
  • Twitter, and all companies and people, should fight this sort of power grab by France hard. France is a fool to try this. If Iran uses this logic the French would scream bloody murder.

  • And Isreal wonders why the rest of the world hates Israel so much...
  • France is scared of Anonymous Cowards. The jokes just write themselves these days, all over the EU. Don't get me started on Cyprus, really... well, isn't somebody going to get me started? /Crusty.

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