Twitter France and its director general Damien Viel were tried Monday in Versailles, respectively warned of "refusal to respond to a requisition" and "complicity in public insult" after two abusive tweets targeting an official of the prefecture of Yvelines.

Criticizing "the total failure" of "moderation on Twitter", which in his eyes has become "a totally asocial network [...] which can undermine public peace and the proper functioning of our society", the prosecutor requested the maximum fine against Twitter and Damien Viel, either 3,750 euros or 75,000 euros each, depending on the offense found.

It all started in March 2021 when, on its Twitter account, the prefecture of Yvelines published a message showing its secretary general assisting in operations to check compliance with the curfew.

A “twittos” then responds to this message by comparing the police to the Pétain police.

Another describes the head of the prefecture as a “Nazi”, adding: “we should hang him at the Liberation that one”.

A requisition remained a dead letter

The Versailles prosecutor's office is opening an investigation for insult on these two tweets and, to identify the authors who operate anonymously on the social network, the gendarmes send a requisition to Twitter France.

Problem, as Damien Viel recalled during the hearing on Monday, Twitter France "is an entity that does not store data", the latter being stored and processed by the European subsidiary of the parent company Twitter Inc, located in Ireland .

However, the public prosecutor thundered during the hearing, Twitter Inc “deliberately” refuses to transmit this information, which is moreover within the time limits set by French justice.

"Twitter International not responding, we decided to embody Twitter France" and to send the company and its general manager to court, explained prosecutor Philippe Toccanier.

A first for Twitter

According to the prosecution, this is the first time that Twitter has been tried in criminal proceedings in France for "refusal to respond to a request from the prosecutor".

In Paris, several anti-discrimination associations assigned the social network to the blue bird in May 2020, judging that it was “old and persistent” in breach of its content moderation obligations on its platform.

“I am in charge of the economic development of Twitter and nothing else” justified Damien Viel on Monday who, questioned by the court, did not assume his status of “general manager”, preferring that of “country manager”.

The transmission to French justice of the information it requests "depends on the goodwill of Twitter International, which is outside French jurisdiction and which chooses to cooperate or not", recalled his lawyer, Me Karim Beylouni.

The authors of the two abusive tweets against the secretary general of the prefecture have not been identified.

Judgment will be delivered on March 21.

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