“The most nauseating displays of anti-Semitism” have flooded French Twitter feeds in recent weeks, said Alain Granat in Jewpop.com. Many of the perpetrators probably thought they were being funny when they posted tweets beginning, “A good Jew...” under the hashtag #unbonjuif. The tweets ranged from the unoriginal—“is a dead Jew” or “is a cheapskate”—to the frightening—“has a pleasantly charred taste.” Some simply said “looks like this,” accompanied by photographs of emaciated prisoners in Auschwitz. Many referred to Israel, such as “likes to kill Palestinians.” The topic became the third most popular on Twitter in France as gleeful users re-tweeted their favorites. Who are these people? They belong to “a generation steeped in extreme confusion, for whom the right to make fun of everything” is used as a cover for a deeply felt hatred. This generation seems to truly believe that Jews dominate the financial and political worlds. Teachers say they can’t teach the history of the Holocaust or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the classroom erupting in vile sentiments.
Twitter took the posts down after a Jewish group threatened to sue, but Twitter is not really the problem, said Philippe Le Claire in L’Union (Reims). The entire Internet is. Because it’s so easy to hide one’s identity, extremists can “develop and maintain websites, blogs, and Facebook pages with writing so hate-filled it’s chilling.” In this twisted new world, “suspected pedophiles are treated more severely than suspected terrorists,” because anyone found with child porn on a computer is presumed to be a potential molester and is jailed, while those who tweet about killing Jews can continue to post.
That’s because the Internet is conditioning us all to adopt the American attitude toward free speech, said Flavien Hamon in Le Monde. Just as watching U.S. cop shows “alters our understanding of French justice,” our use of Internet platforms developed in the U.S. has warped our understanding of freedom of expression. In the U.S., it is perfectly legal “to belong to a neo-Nazi group or wear a T-shirt with a racist slogan.” Here, it is not. French society believes that freedom of expression does not extend to hate speech.
Yet censorship has become impossible, said Erwan Cario in Libération. Every minute, more than 100,000 tweets are posted, 48 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 3,600 photos shared on Instagram, and nearly 600 new websites created. Of course there is “a high probability that some of that new content is insulting, anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive.” And even if a group does persuade a platform to take down certain postings, that action only gives the postings more publicity. Case in point: “The vilest of the anti-Semitic tweets have now been published in every newspaper” reporting on the complaint against Twitter. And so #unbonjuif lives on.