As Twitter Polices U.S. Political Ads, Anti-Semitic Hashtag Trends in France

A Twitter trend emerged late Monday in France, prompting outcries of unchecked anti-Semitism just days after French lawmakers passed sweeping online anti-discrimination legislation.

The hashtag #sijetaitunjuif, which translates to English as "If I Was Jewish," began appearing at the tops of French users' Twitter feeds Monday as a barrage of tweets hit the social network mocking the Holocaust and touting terrorist attacks against Jews. Pro-Jewish groups, journalists and French lawmakers alike blasted the emergence of such a blatant anti-Semitic trend despite Twitter and Facebook's recent agreement to comply with the European countries' strict online anti-racism measures.

Last week, France's parliament passed a new bill, known as the Avia law, requiring websites to delete offending content within 24 hours or face massive fines.

Dozens of vitriolic posts making light of the Nazi death camps were posted to Twitter in the past 24 hours, including one shared widely in screenshots which reads, "I would use my grandfather's grave as an ashtray." And another tied to the "If I Was Jewish" hashtag trend which read, "I will put the family in the oven to continue the tradition." An alternative spelling, version of the hashtag translated to "throw out the Jews."

Update: A Twitter spokesperson sent Newsweek the following statement in response: "As per our Help Center, there are Rules for trends and we stopped this hashtag from trending as it is in violation of the Twitter Rules. If people on Twitter see something that violates the Twitter Rules, the most important thing they can do is report it, by clicking the drop down arrow at the top of the Tweet and selecting 'Report Tweet.' We have zero-tolerance policies in place that address threats of violence, abuse and harassment, and hateful conduct. If we identify accounts that violate these rules, we'll take enforcement action."

Le hashtag antisémite #sijetaitunjuif n’est pas seulement une honte absolue, un marqueur de l’antisémitisme qui doit conduire à en bloquer les auteurs. Il montre à quel point les antisémites, en plus d’haïr les juifs, détestent la langue française.

— Licra (@_LICRA_) May 18, 2020

After months of pressure from the French government to comply with the Avia law and other online anti-discrimination orders, the American companies of Twitter and Facebook recently agreed. After meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed to hand over to judges any data the company has which could identify the French users suspected of posting hate speech.

Back in America, the social media giants have taken diverging paths in terms of political ads, hate speech and policing posts. Last year, Twitter announced its first iteration of policies that banned political ads just weeks after Facebook controversially implemented a policy where most political ads posted to the social network are not fact-checked.

France's so-called "Avia Law" is named for the French lawmaker who drafted the legislation, La République en Marche (LREM) Party member Laetitia Avia. Macron, also a member of the LREM, has made regulation of social media platforms, in particular a crackdown on hate speech, a priority of his administration.

"I am horrified, this is part of the usual anti-Semitism on social networks," National Assembly LREM member Sylvain Maillard said during a Tuesday TV program, responded to the #sijetaitunjuif hashtag which also contains a typo. "This is why we passed the Avia law."

Other posts containing the hashtag featured Islamic State flags and threats against Jewish sites and Israel.

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism—or Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l'Antisémitisme (LICRA) responded Monday evening: "The anti-Semitic hashtag #sijetaitunjuif is not only an absolute shame, a marker of anti-Semitism which must lead to blocking the perpetrators. It shows how anti-Semites, in addition to hating Jews, hate the French language."

This is not the first time the #sijetaitunjuif emerged on Twitter. The hashtag traces ties to tweets dating back as far as 2012, when the company initially received backlash over seemingly unchecked content.

Star of David
A Jewish Star of David is shown on a brick wall. In White Plains, New York, an anti-Semitic act on the eve of Yom Kippur has left worshipers on edge. PETER PARKS/Getty