A French judge has ordered Twitter to turn over the identities of users who post hate speech or face a fine.

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Twitter must identify posters of hate speech, French judge says

The site has been home of multiple racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic trends in French

Twitter already agreed to remove some offensive French tweets

Site must comply or pay $1,336 a day, judge ruled

For months now, the French-language twittersphere has lit up with a rash of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic tweets using the hashtags #UnBonJuif (a good Jew), #SiMonFilsEstGay (if my son is gay), and #SiMaFilleRamèneUnNoir (if my daughter brings home a black guy).

Last fall, under pressure from French advocacy group Union of Jewish Students (UEJF), Twitter agreed to remove some offensive tweets. In October 2012, at Berlin’s request, Twitter also suspended a German neo-Nazi account based in the city of Hanover, the first time the company had responded to such a government request.

However, at the time, the UEJF also wanted identifying information of the perpetrators, which Twitter was not prepared to give up. So the group went to court to force the issue.

On Thursday, the Grand Instance Court in Paris ordered Twitter to identify the authors of anti-semitic tweets by creating a mechanism (Google Translate) to alert French authorities to “illegal content,” on its French site “in a visible and easily-accessible [way].”

If Twitter does not comply within two weeks, the American company faces fines of €1,000 ($1,336) per day.

How “free” should “free speech” be?

This isn’t the first time that French courts and laws have butted heads over idiotic racism online. Less than a year ago, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a law that would make even viewing a hate site a crime.

Here in the United States, we have a Constitutionally protected near-blanket right to free expression. Although incitement to violence is generally not protected, hate speech – no matter how disgusting and awful – is. As we’ve reported before, the operating principle in America has generally been that undesirable speech should be countered with more speech, not less.

That’s not the approach taken in Europe, where hate speech is most definitely not protected. Many European Union states (and even some non-EU countries in Europe) have various types of anti-hate speech legal mechanisms, in part to head off terrorism and far-right violence.

“We’re not able to identify the individuals, only Twitter can do so,” Sacha Reingewirtz, UEJF’s vice president, told the French broadcaster, RFI. “We’ve already tweeted the decision. And we see on Twitter that the decision has apparently triggered a new rise of anti-semitic messages directed against our organization, so there is still work to be done, both by us and Twitter, but we’re happy the French justice is now changing the way it is.”