PARIS - A French court on Thursday ordered Twitter Inc to help
identify the authors of anti-Semitic posts or face fines of 1,000 euros ($1,300)
per day, as the social network firm comes under renewed pressure to combat
racist and extremist messages.
The order, requested by a Jewish student
union and rights groups, concerned anti-Semitic material but could open the
floodgates to legal pursuit of Twitter users who post a wide range of messages
deemed illegal or offensive.
"This is an excellent decision, which we
hope will bring an end to the feeling of impunity that fuels the worst
excesses," said Stephane Lilti, lawyer for the groups who sought the
The anti-Semitic messages started appearing last October, and
have since been deleted.
The Paris court gave privately-held Twitter,
whose general policy is that it does not control content posted on its network,
15 days to hand over data identifying people who have published messages judged
The court also ordered Twitter to set up a system in France
that helps people draw attention to illegal content. Under French law, people
found guilty of inciting racial hatred can be jailed for a year and
Twitter's lawyer in France, Alexandra Neri, declined to
Failure to comply would expose the firm, founded in 2006 and now
boasting 140 million monthly active users worldwide, to daily fines of 1,000
euros if the groups who sought the order request it, which Lilti said they would
not hesitate to do.
A rights group involved in the case was quick to
point out that the injunction, while limited to a case of anti-Semitic traffic,
set a precedent that could also have a wider impact.
"This marks a
decisive step forward in the battle against racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic offenses on the Internet," the International League Against Racism and
Anti-Semitism (LICRA) said in a statement.
"Nobody can ignore French law,
not even the giants of the American digital economy." For a first time, Twitter
deployed a new message-blocker in Germany last October to jam the posting of
messages by a neo-Nazi group banned by police.
A tool Twitter calls
"country withheld content" allows it to censor tweets considered illegal in a
given country. ($1 = 0.7530 euros)