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French Government in Twitter Concerns

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.

Experts Baffled by Fall in Crime

There is a traditional view that, in times of austerity, crime is likely to rise. This applies to all aspects of criminal activity, and in particular to crimes against property such as theft. However, recent figures have revealed that crime rates have fallen, somewhat surprisingly, in the UK over the last year, a statistic that goes firmly against the expected. Overall, crimes appear to number some eight percent less than in the previous year.

The murder rate in England and Wales also fell by some ten percent, with 549 murders recorded across the year, and this is the lowest level since as long ago as 1978. The figures are baffling criminologists, who believe that trends in the past show precisely the opposite, with crime rising across the board when times are hard. It would appear that both the official annual crime survey and statistics from the police point to a change.

1Professor Mike Hough, an expert criminologist with many years experience in analysing trends, said:
“This fall is striking and unexpected, especially in view of the fiscal crisis, whose impact is bearing down sharpest on the poorest and most marginal social groups. There is no single explanation. Better policing may be part of the explanation, but for property crimes like burglary and car theft changes in opportunities are more important.”

He went on to elaborate as to some possible reasons for the decline in crime:
“Cars are getting more and more secure, and the value of goods that burglars used to target is falling fast. These factors may spill over to other property crime, because there are fewer opportunities for ‘low-level crimes’ or ‘debut crimes’ on which young offenders can cut their teeth. But expressive crimes like violence and vandalism are also falling. Possibly the fall in alcohol consumption among the 16-25 age group may be a factor here.”