Twitter defeat on hate ‘likely to be one-off’

By Josh Jackman and Shirli Sitbon, July 19, 2013
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Lawyers are arguing that Twitter’s compliance with a French court order to release the details of users who posted antisemitic tweets is unlikely set a worldwide precedent.

British media lawyer Simon Gallant said the social media company had been “dragged kicking and screaming to comply” and that “they will do their utmost to resist other applications from other places.

“My impression is that they, like other internet companies, will not be very forthcoming unless they’re forced into it. It may give some encouragement, but I don’t think it’ll mark a massive sea-change.”

Adam Rose, a partner at the London-based law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said that Twitter had been backed into a corner, and “came down on the only side they could — that of complying with the law. I would not expect this to be the first of loads of cases … another court, even in France, on slightly different facts — or even the same facts — might decide the opposite.”

In contrast, Jonathan Hayoun, president of the French Union of Jewish Students (UEJF), which brought the case against Twitter, claimed the move showed that “insulting minorities on the web is just as serious as insulting them on the street, face-to-face.”

There are fears the ruling will compromise freedom of speech, but Mr Hayoun said that by posting hateful messages, the tweeters had given up that right: “Anti-gay, racist, antisemitic, anti-Roma messages are a threat to those minorities. Fighting these slurs is not a threat to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech stops when you endanger someone else.”

CST spokesperson Mike Whine said that Twitter, which had fiercely resisted any efforts to attain users’ details, was learning that “globalisation means that they are subject to other legislative systems; they have to consider social responsibilities”.

Last updated: 1:45pm, July 19 2013