Twitter, facing lawsuits and ongoing pressure from the French government, announced on Friday that it would hand over data identifying certain users who posted anti-Semitic tweets with the hashtag “unbonjuif.”
The decision comes after a Jewish student group, claiming the tweets violated France’s laws against hate speech, demanded that Twitter disclose their authors. The hashtag, which translates as “a good Jew,” trended on Twitter last fall as users published a racist torrent against Jews and Israel.
The decision to disclose data about the authors is a setback for Twitter, which says it is committed to free speech principles and “protecting the user’s voice.” It has also gotten a negative reception on Twitter, where critics and news outlets described the decision as “bending” to the French government:
Twitter, in a statement, said it will “actively continue contributing to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism,” adding that it will take measures to “improve the accessibility of the reporting procedure of illegal Tweets.”
The French hashtag controversy reflects an ongoing dilemma for Twitter and other U.S. tech companies: how to comply with local laws on issues like hate speech and blasphemy while also staying true to free speech principles expressed by the First Amendment.
My colleague, Mathew Ingram, has in the past praised Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s commitment to be the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” As the company grows, however, those ideals appear to be increasingly colliding with national governments.