We have been following (here and here and here and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. As noted in a recent column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws. Now, a French Jewish student group is adding its name to the movement to curtail free speech rights. The Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) is demanding 38.5 million euros after Twitter has declined to turn over the identity of people responsible for comments deemed anti-Semitic by the group. The students appear to have no concept or at least concern for the loss of anonymity in free speech. Like others, they are focused only on their insular grievance with no appreciation for the harm caused by such court orders.
Jonathan Hayoun, president of the UEJF, expressed no concern of his role in the attack on free speech and simply accused Twitter of “playing the indifference card in not respecting the [earlier] decision of January 24.” The company was given two weeks to turn over the identities of the writers. What Hayoun considers “indifference” is a company trying to protect the free speech values that are at the heart of the Internet. It is Hayoun and his colleagues — and the French court — that are indifferent to the loss of free speech protection. None of us, including Twitter, has any sympathy for anti-Semites. However, it is free speech and not these writers that is at risk in this latest effort.
Hayoun appears completely uneducated, or at least unaware, as to the harm caused by such actions for free speech. He insisted that “[i]n protecting the anonymity of the author of these tweets it is making itself an accomplice and offering a highway for racists and anti-Semites.” That is absurd, of course. Twitter like other sites is a highway for public comment and free speech. With valuable speech comes a lot of low-grade speech. That is the cost of free speech. However, once you go down the slippery slope of speech regulation and punishment, that highway will become nothing more than an assembly line for approved and sanctioned thoughts.
Twitter says it will appeal and I wish them the very best in doing so. As for these students, I will only note that history is filled with students, including French students, fighting for liberty. They would not be among them.