Microblogging site Twitter appeared before a court in Paris on Tuesday (January 8) as a French student organisation demanded the social network reveal the identities of users posting anti-semitic messages so they could be prosecuted under French law.
The French Jewish Students' Union (U.E.J.F.) presented their arguments to judges, saying that users writing offensive content using "hashtags" including #sijetaisnazi ('If I were a Nazi') and #unbonjuif ('A good Jew') were breaking French laws and could be pursued through the French legal system.
The lawyer representing U.E.J.F. and the J'Accuse organisation against Twitter, Stephane Lilti, stressed that his clients were not trying to make the company police all the messages posted on the site.
"Twitter does not have any obligation to survey the content on its service. That's not what we're saying. What we're saying is that when we draw to Twitter's attention some content which is contrary to French law, Twitter must, at the request of the French justice system, delete this content and provide the identity of the author of the infraction," he said.
The identity of the individuals could then be passed to the French authorities, Lilti added.
"The aim is not necessarily to obtain a very harsh punishment for these people, but that at least the feeling of impunity which reigns over the network ceases," he said.
But Twitter said that by signing up to the social network's terms and conditions, users enter into contracts bound by American law which prohibit the transfer of personal data under such circumstances.
"There is no clear solution. Twitter has to comply with American law as an American service provider, regarding the storage and communication of data, and on the other hand really wants to collaborate with the French associations and to provide this data," Twitter's lawyer Alexandra Neri told Reuters TV.
She added that the company had proposed that the French associations attempt to obtain the data through other existing legal frameworks.
The judgement in the case is expected to be handed down on January 24.