Social media giants face French lawsuit threats over ‘hate’ posts

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PARIS ( – Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are facing threats of legal action here after three non-governmental organizations released a study showing that they often fail to remove material reported for spreading hatred in violation of French law.

Between March 31 and May 10, the organizations identified 586 posts which they said were racist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying or homophobic, as well as others advocating terrorism or crimes against humanity.

SOS Racisme, the Union of the Jewish Students of France (UJSF) and SOS Homophobie said Twitter deleted only four percent of 225 reported hate posts, while YouTube removed seven percent of 225 reported posts and Facebook removed 34 percent of 156 reported posts.

The study was published early this week, during an annual conference on combating hatred online.

“We think that the [social media] associations should eliminate the contents that are clearly racist from their platforms as we have attracted their attention to,” UJSF lawyer Stéphane Lilti said in a phone interview.

“French laws are strict about what people can say or write and we think that these social media companies should comply. As we, along with two other associations have found these posts for them, they should act quickly.”

Lilti explained that wording has to be explicit to be considered illegal under French law. For instance, saying “death to Jews, to Arabs, to blacks, is illegal in France,” he said.

France does not have an equivalent to the First Amendment in the U.S., said Lilti.

“But we think that damage to people often starts with racist words. And today racist and anti-Semitic words and even acts are almost commonplace. We cannot let this happen.”

Spokespeople for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube did not respond to email queries. The three NGOs said they were awaiting responses from the social media companies before deciding whether to go ahead with legal proceedings.

SOS Racisme general manager Valentin Le Dily said the issue was “not about restraining freedom of expression, but about posts that are clearly illicit.”

“For us any word, sentence, content that could call for murder – and it is the case here – has to be erased from the platform that published it,” Le Dily said. “We think that companies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and some others, should put in place a system to restrain users from posting hateful contents.”

The anti-racist group’s president, Dominique Sopo, said, “It seems that these platforms prefer to censor pictures of breasts rather than calls to murder against homosexuals, Arabs or Jews.”

SOS Homophobie president Gilles Dehais said the three groups’ campaign had highlighted “the lack of responsiveness of the social media companies.”

“We regret that the great actors of the Internet still do not implement sufficient resources to protect their users about any kind of homo- and gay-phobia and respect French legislation.”

“In the world today, there are problems of hate in the Internet and there are websites that promote hate,” said UJSF president Sacha Reingewirtz. “We criticize the refusal of Twitter and Facebook to show transparency in front of such problems. We think that they don’t respect the conditions of use of their platforms by people.”

Reingewirtz said the three social media companies had been invited to this week’s conference but did not attend.

“They have great speeches about how to fight against of all forms of racism, but they don’t act,” he concluded.

The UJSF, which has 15,000 members, was created after World War II by former resistance fighters and fights against racism and anti-Semitism.

— Written by Fayçal Benhassain