I hate to see Jews at the forefront of restrictions on free speech.
A little over a year after a French court forced Twitter to remove some anti-Semitic content, experts say the ruling has had a ripple effect, leading other Internet companies to act more aggressively against hate speech in an effort to avoid lawsuits.
The 2013 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals settled a lawsuit brought the year before by the Union of Jewish Students of France over the hashtag #UnBonJuif, which means “a good Jew” and which was used to index thousands of anti-Semitic comments that violated France’s law against hate speech.
Since then, YouTube has permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. And in February, Facebook removed the page of French Holocaust denier Alain Soral for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years but was only taken down this year.
“Big companies don’t want to be sued,” said Konstantinos Komaitis, a former academic and current policy adviser at the Internet Society, an international organization that encourages governments to ensure access and sustainable use of the Internet. “So after the ruling in France, we are seeing an inclination by Internet service providers like Google, YouTube, Facebook to try and adjust their terms of service — their own internal jurisprudence — to make sure they comply with national laws.”
The change comes amid a string of heavy sentences handed down by European courts against individuals who used online platforms to incite to racism or violence.
On Monday, a British court sentenced one such offender to four weeks in jail for tweeting “Hitler was right” to a Jewish lawmaker. Last week, a court in Geneva sentenced a man to five months in jail for posting texts that deny the Holocaust. And in April, a French court sentenced two men to five months in jail for posting an anti-Semitic video.
“The stiffer sentences owe partly to a realization by judges of the dangers posed by online hatred, also in light of cyber-jihadism and how it affected people like Mohammed Merah,” said Christophe Goossens, the legal adviser of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism, referring to the killer of four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.
In the Twitter case, the company argued that as an American firm it was protected by the First Amendment. But the court rejected the argument and forced Twitter to remove some of the comments and identify some of the authors. It also required the company to set up a system for flagging and ultimately removing comments that violate hate speech laws.