French appeals court confirms Twitter must identify authors of racist tweets

Twitter and CEO Dick Costolo still face a suit seeking $51M in damages for their defiance of a court order to identify users

A French court of appeal has rejected a move by Twitter seeking to shield the identities of those responsible for posts last year contravening French laws on hate speech and carrying the hashtag #unbonjuif (a good Jew).

The appeals court upheld a ruling in a case brought last November by the French Jewish Students Union (UEJF) and four other French antiracism organizations, seeking to compel Twitter to reveal the identities of the posters and to provide a simple way for its users to flag similarly illegal messages.

On Jan. 24, the court ordered Twitter to reveal the posters' identities, giving it 15 days from receipt of the order in which to comply.

Twitter lodged an appeal against the ruling on March 21, just days after the UEJF filed a criminal complaint against it and its CEO Dick Costolo, alleging they had failed to provide the information and seeking €38.5 million (US$51 million) in damages.

The court rejected Twitter's appeal on Wednesday, ordering it to pay the UEJF €1,500 in compensation and all costs relating to the appeal.

The UEJF welcomed the court's rejection of the appeal. "The French courts are taking a harder line," said UEJF President Jonathan Hayoun in a statement.

While Twitter and companies like it say they are not responsible for the comments posted by their users, the UEJF has maintained that they should no longer be able to claim ignorance of their users' behavior in the face of repeated complaints about content associated with a particular phrase or hashtag.

"The court has confirmed that, after a while, Twitter becomes responsible for racist and anti-Semitic comments posted by its users, as the UEJF has been saying for months," Hayoun said.

The anonymity associated with pseudonymous accounts on services such as Twitter is another problem, Hayoun said. "Our goal is to put an end to racist and anti-Semitic authors' feeling of impunity on the Internet."

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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