French Jewish Students' Union seeks €38.5M in criminal damages from Twitter

Twitter says the union is 'grandstanding' and blames it for delays in processing an earlier court decision

The French Jewish Students' Union has filed a lawsuit seeking ¬38.5 million (US$50 million) in criminal damages from Twitter and its CEO Dick Costolo over the company's failure to identify those responsible for a series of antisemite posts last October. Twitter retorted that the union was "grandstanding."

The union filed suit on Nov. 29 asking the Paris High Court to order Twitter to provide information allowing the identification of those responsible for posts contravening French laws on hate speech and carrying the hashtag #unbonjuif. It also asked that Twitter provide a simple way for French users of the service to flag messages that would be illegal under those laws. Four other French antiracism organizations joined the suit.

On Jan. 24 the court ordered Twitter to identify those involved in the creation of the messages, which Twitter had blocked in response to an earlier court order, and gave the company 15 days from receipt of the order in which to comply.

At the time, the union's lawyer told French media that the company would file a criminal complaint if the company did not disclose the identifying information within the time set by the court.

Late Wednesday, the union told AFP that it had filed a criminal complaint against Twitter and Costolo for their failure to provide the information. It has pledged to pass on to the Shoah Memorial the ¬38.5 million in damages it is seeking. By protecting the anonymity of the authors of the hate speech, Twitter has become their accomplice, union president Jonathan Hayoun told AFP.

However, Twitter said Thursday it had only "received the order in the past few days" and that it planned to lodge an appeal against the January ruling on Friday.

"As yesterday's new filing shows, they are sadly more interested in grandstanding than taking the proper international legal path for this data," a Twitter representative said via email. "We are filing our appeal tomorrow, and would have filed it sooner if not for UEJF's intentional delay in processing the court's decision."

The company did not elaborate on what role the UEJF could have played in the delay of the January ruling.

The UEJF did not respond to a request for comment. On its website, it did not directly acknowledge the new court filing, but republished an AFP story citing its president on the matter.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

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