After Facebook responded to complaints over gender-based hate speech on its site last May by promising to review its content guidelines, I wrote that the company's response on the issue seemed to differ markedly from how Twitter handled the controversy of the #unbonjuif hashtag that appeared on the site last year: in that case, anti-racist groups had taken Twitter to court in an effort to learn the identity of those posting anti-Semitic comments on the site, which they said violated French law, but the company had resisted, in keeping with its general absolutist stance on free speech. But after months of legal proceedings and having lost an appeal in June, Twitter has now agreed to hand over the data that will help identify the offending users.
My general thought on these cases is that in contrast to governments, social media companies are perfectly within their rights to set content guidelines so long as they are clear about them up front to users. Twitter's generally lax attitude toward content restrictions has meant that, unfortunately, there's a whole lot of racism on Twitter. The lesson of the French case would seem to be that users shouldn't assume they will be protected by a social network's user guidelines if what they're writing breaks the law of their country.
French anti-Semites probably won't garner a whole lot of sympathy, but they're unlikely to be the last group targeted in a case like this.