Twitter may face legal problems in France… Why it wouldn’t happen here (for now)
Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, especially in France and Germany. One outlet for anti-Semetic commentary has been twitter. In France, the hashtag #unbonjuif (literally “a good Jew” has been used to spread anti-Semetic jokes. It is now the 3rd most popular hashtag in France.
In France, as well as Germany, the notion of “Free Speech” is not protected as it is in the United States. Germany for example, has outlawed anti-Semetic speech as a whole, something unthinkable in the U.S. The French government is seeking to crack down on the use of twitter to spreed anti-Semitism. The problem is individuals can use twitter anonymously, and twitter servers are offshore and are generally cannot be subpoenaed in French Courts. The solution is this, sue twitter. From France24.com.
According to French lawyer and online media specialist Gérard Haas, Twitter, as a publisher, is legally responsible for the content of its website, just as much as its individual contributors.
He told FRANCE 24 that the only solution for anti-racism organisations was to target individual tweeters and “sue, sue, sue” in response to last week’s anti-Semitic Twitter binge.
“Twitter has to improve its reaction to events like these so that the justice system can quickly identify who has made posts that are illegal under French anti-racism laws,” he said.
While this is happening in France, if a similar situation were to happen in the United States, this course of action could not happen. First, as tasteless and repugnant as anti-Semetic speech is, it is still covered by the first Amendment to the Constitution as free speech, with very little exception.
Even if that were not the case, twitter is protected by the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Most people know the Communications Decency Act as the anti-internet-porn act of 1996. Well, less than a year later, the anti-pornography provisions were largely struck down by the United States Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU. However, the safe harbor provisions and section 230 still remain.
Section 230 basically gives websites and servers immunity from any slanderous or defamatory communication posted by a third party, stating in part “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. The key part being “publisher or speaker”. In tort law, a publisher (anyone who prints or repeats the defamatory communication) of information has the same liability as the original speaker. Without that provision, then twitter would be liable for everything everyone posts on its webpage, as would facebook, or any blog or news source with a comments section. So hooray for forward thinking which allows us to have forums to express our thoughts freely, without them having to bear the costs of our own stupidity… for now…
Posted on October 18, 2012, in Communications Decency Act, Constitutional Law, defamation, first amendment, Free Speech, Open Internet, Uncategorized and tagged Censorship, Communications Decency Act, free speech, Internet Law, twitter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.