The French Jewish Students Association is going to court against Twitter.
As you can read in the article above, a slew of anti-semite tweets surfaced recently that are covered in France by a Hate Speech law. Not only in France, mind you since the same legal provisions also exist in Germany where a Neo-Nazi twitter account was blocked by Twitter.
The heart of the matter is dual here. First, you have the good old freedom of speech debate and second, the anonymous Web and its virtual persona.
Freedom of speech has always been difficult to enforce. That is exactly why some countries as the two mentioned so far have set up restrictions on what can be expressed with a minimum of decency. We could summarize that debate by saying that when your written or spoken words include the possibility of hurting, killing or recommending such actions, it falls under the Hate interdiction. Since most countries have anti-slander or anti-defamation rules, Internet cannot escape the application of said laws. Cannot escape it in theory as we all know how difficult it is to find and prosecute those who express such shameful views safely hidden behind a pseudo, itself registered to an e-mail address that was in turn not linked to the real name of the flesh and blood person uttering the threats.
It is expected that if you begin foaming at the mouth while asserting that all Jews /gays/ women/ Arabs /etc should be imprisoned or killed in real life, the venue will determine the response. Try it at a normal bar and be prepared to find yourself invited to a friendly alley brawl by someone disagreeing. Try it at a normal Sunday meal in a normal house and expect to be shown the door! Now, try it at a Nazi party meet and be prepared for thunderous applause! It is a matter of setting. And there comes the problem for “Social web services”. What kind of virtual venue fits what kind of physical venue?
I have a link on this blog to a military forum. When I introduced it, I warned my readers about the unruly nature of the place. WAFF is one of the most permissive such sites. If you do not tolerate any outburst or vigorous debate, avoid it! On the other hand, yours truly was also a member of very “classy” fora and discovered that, as in real life, most of these had agendas and would on occasion target a given member for not abiding by it. No threats, not even a swear but the moderation on your back in hopes of shutting you up. Which is worse?
My personal preference has always gone to honesty. I can bear to hear stupid thoughts expressed; I’m old enough to know it is unavoidable anyhow. You can be dressed as a CEO and act like a hoodlum just as you can be less assuming in your style and more honest in your ways. What’s even more important is that in both cases, you do not have to stay a member of a place that does not suit you.
If we now consider the social sites, variations show up again. Facebook for instance is not as problematic as Twitter. Not because it is better but because you choose your friends and can thus just dismiss someone you deem unbearable by taking them off your friends list. Twitter is a much more complex problem as you can access just about anyone’s comments on just about anything. President Obama, your favorite sports star, movie star, the choice is yours. and while these people will occasionally commit a blunder, their name is on it, so to speak. The problem usually stems from two things : comments under an assumed nickname which offers impunity to their authors and group accounts that represent an organization.
Definitive Lapse of Reason followed the “sweet exchanges” of hate that accompanied the recent spat of fighting between Israël and the Hamas. I just posted the first exchanges with a no comment tag.
The Israeli Defence Forces were smug with show of strength and promises of action :
while the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of the Hamas kept shouting their hopes of killing a maximum of Israeli citizens :
@IDFSpokesperson – “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”
@AlqassamBrigade – “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)”
So wars are okay but individual expression should be dragged in court? If we want to be serious here, either both are condemnable or both are acceptable. There is no valid reason why some would be free to say anything on the Net and others restricted.
The question is mostly one of anonymity. The pseudos, nicknames and hidden identity do offer protection and in a sense may explain why people act worse on average on Internet than in real life. It is an old conundrum that if all of us had total impunity, many would behave as they want and not as they should! It comes back to my mention of fora where the more raucous may not be the least honest.
Would forcing people to access the Web as themselves solve the problem? Most likely not. It would only make the virtual world identical to the physical one inasmuch as the strong and loud ones would rule. But it so happens that the relative protection of your electronic avatar also allows people who suffer everyday, for being excessively shy, for living a lie in society for fear of ridicule or for being victims of different types to interact with others in relative safety of mind and body. Foregoing pseudos would deprive them of an outlet. We do on occasion in our Justice systems protect the identities of some; there are very valid reasons to do so, otherwise we would not have Witness Protection programs for instance?
Considering all that we just spoke of, let’s say this : the hidden identity is not a problem in and of itself. So that we may want to look into alternatives. Could Twitter split itself? Would it not be proper to have an open ID Twitter and a regular one? You could still follow stars on the Open ID one and would have to comment under your own name. Instead for the regular one, you can hide under the veil of Pussyplay69 and expose if not yourself, your fantasies. And each would know in advance what they’re getting into?
After all, let me remind you that everywhere, France, Poland or America, kids and adults are routinely harassed by way of the Social Medias. We have all heard of horror stories of people going to the extreme of suicide for the cyber-bullying they have been victims of. In most of these cases, the messages were barely hiding their authors if at all. And that brings us to the untold advantage of things as they stand for now : when the activities fall under jurisdiction of the state, the means exist to find the perpetrators. Had they been forbidden, they would have pressed on in deeper secret?
In the meantime, I’ll check this case as it goes to its term and report back to you. But if the websurfers get sentenced for their words, I hope the Jewish Student Association of France will remember to shut up when someone drags Tsahal, the Israeli forces to court for their provocations of mid-November. Although Hamas will face the same fate if there is justice.
Good day all, remember to behave if you can, Tay.
Find Twitter’s policy here : http://support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-abuse-or-policy-violations
And do not hesitate to search the WWW for recent news on fake accounts or local laws concerning censorship as here :