Social networking phenomenon Twitter is making waves in France as the government joins in a debate about the use of offensive hashtags and tweets. Hashtags, for the uninitiated, are labels attached to a tweet, which is the message itself. Twitter operates by allowing people to post short messages that can be viewed by ‘followers’ and has been a massive hit across the world. The concerns in Frances are over homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic remarks and implications that are becoming more commonplace among Twitter users.
The French government has had talks with officials from the US-based Twitter organisation, and has declared that the company should be actively seeking offensive tweets and barring them from publication. Twitter is well known as a guardian of free speech, and will be more than reluctant to allow any censorship. However, the French are insistent that some of the more offensive material may be illegal under French law.
Offensive and Illegal
In recent weeks a number of hashtags featuring offensive messages have ‘trended’ – that is become hot topics – on French Twitter; one – #SiMaFilleRameneUnNoir (If my daughter brings home a black man) – speculated on what parents would do in that situation, with particularly unpleasant results, and another – #SiMonFilsEstGay (If my son was gay) – invited the same in a different situation. Others have included #UnBonJuif (a good Jew) and #SiJetaisNazi (If I were a Nazi).
There have been court cases brought by anti-racism groups in France asking for the identity of those who post inflammatory and offensive tweets to be made public. However, Twitter has agreed to remove offensive tags, but as the information is stored in the USA, insists that French law does not apply. A spokeswoman for Twitter explained:
“We’re not fleeing our responsibility. Our concern is not to violate American law in cooperating with the French justice system. Our data is stored in the US, so we must obey the rule of law in that country.”
The row looks set to continue as it is difficult to see how anything other than blanket censorship could bring an end to the unsavoury use of Twitter and other social networking media.