Can You Calm the Internet? A Court in France is Trying

Mila, 18, during a hearing in June in Paris. Photo Credit: Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

A French court convicted eleven people. The charge was using the internet to harass a teenage girl.

The 16-year-old girl was sharing details about her attraction to women. She added, “just not black or Arab women.”

The insults and threats started coming over the internet. Some charged she was insulting Islam. The girl wrote back. “I hate religion. The Quran is a religion of hatred.” It was the start of a rant by the girl.

Internet threats followed. The result was charges of harassment against the writers.

At first, the law thought the young girl might be in the wrong. Was she sending our hate speech? Or were her comments about religion? Hate speech is against the law. Insulting religion is not. The girl said she had no hatred against Muslims. Her anger is toward religion. The government agreed.

France is in the middle of a about free speech. A few years ago, terrorists attacked a and killed seventeen people. The reason? The paper used cartoons to depict Muhammad. Last year a man beheaded a His crime? He used similar cartoons in a classroom conversation about freedom of expression.

The Muslim minority in France face conflict. Can one be loyal to the French ideal of freedom of speech and the religious rules of Islam?

French President Macron said, “We have gone mad.” He said that any religion can be criticized. But “we must not tolerate any violence because of the criticism.”

The internet is a place where people express their feelings. Here are some of the messages to the girl. “It would be a real pleasure to lacerate your body with my nicest knife. I would leave it to rot in the woods.” Another wrote, “Someone is going to come to your house. Someone is going to tie you up and torture you.”

In the end, most of the defendants said they did not realize the harm they had done. They were guilty. They got suspended sentences and they were to pay small fines.

The harm to the girl is real and lasting. She still lives under police protection. She does not attend school in person.

The judge said, “Social networks are the street. What you would not do in the street, do not do on social networks.”

A new French law lays out what online harassment is. It is the basis for the convictions. The is working, said a French minister.

The question is, are people responsible for what they write? Are social networks such as Twitter and Facebook responsible for what appears on their pages?

This trial and its outcome hold the writers responsible for harassment against the girl.

It is by no means the end of the matter.

Source: The New York Times