Twitter Hands Over Data to French Prosecutors


Jewish and anti-racism groups have placed the pressure on French authorities regarding anti-Semitic tweets seen on Twitter. The social media giant handed over to French prosecutors an extensive list of users possibly showing trends of racist tweets.

Twitter has held a long-time stance of never releasing information to government authorities. They stated the information was detrimental,” data that may enable the identification of certain users that the (Paris prosecutor) believes have violated French law.”

Twitter didn’t go down easily without a fight. The order of documents came from a court order that was issued earlier this year demanding data documents be released to the French prosecutors that showed the following hashtags:

  • #unbonjuif – (a good Jew)
  • #unjuifmort – (a dead Jew)
  • #simafilleameneunnoir – (if my daughter brought home a black man)
  • #simonfilsestgay – (if my son is gay)

Twitter remained resilient and instead of handing over data, the social bird of the web blocked access for all users in France. They used the terms and conditions to their advantage, advising users of the country that they broke France’s anti-hatred laws. Or it simply could have been a strong-arm from the anti-homophobia and anti-racist groups following the protests they held against Twitter.

The order from a high court in France to Twitter regarding the data release to prosecutors, came after France’s Union of Jewish Students launched a lawsuit against Twitter and its CEO, Dick Costolo. The group claimed they suffered over $38.5 million euros in damages. This equates to $50 million American dollars.

Upon release of the order, Twitter refused to comply and held out, until the last 24 hours when they finally relented and claimed the move as a way to “put an end to the dispute.”

UEJF President Jonathon Hayoun was elated with the reverse decision by Twitter to finally release the data. The delivery of information, stated Hayoun is, “a great victory in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism” and “a big step in the fight against the feeling of impunity on the Internet.”

In a more controversial statement, Hayoun stated, “This agreement is a reminder that you cannot do anything you want on the Internet.”

While this was a win in the eyes of the UEJF, anti-racists groups and France’s minister for the digit economy, Fleur Pellerin, it leaves more questions in its wake. To what degree will users be protected through privacy laws and to what interpretation leaves behind a distinction of hate speech?

Twitter has fashioned their platform as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” While Twitter has stated it was only complying with the valid  “legal process in compliance with US law,” it leaves open questions on what new filters social media outlets may permit for European nations that have tighter anti-hatred legislation laws than America.

The French prosecution team is not a stranger to data demands from larger U.S. companies. Twitter was just a recent and new kid on the block to the mix. French authorities have acted against other digital companies regarding information and privacy policies against Google, Skype, Apple and Amazon.

In the first of potentially many applications, Twitter used the policy known as “country-withheld content” to block user accounts on their platform. The Twitter data demand by the French prosecutors call into question how many more cases will become uncovered, and how data will be handed to the authorities.

Angelina Bouc


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