French Survivors Of Terrorism Must Now Battle Online Abuse

Three survivors of terrorism in France are now being targeted online for the compassion they have shown towards the children of Islamic militants. They are taking the power in their own hands and taking the social media giant to court.

People paying tribute to victims in front of the Bataclan, Paris.
People paying tribute to victims in front of the Bataclan, Paris.
Damien Leloup and Samuel Laurent

PARIS — The survivor of a terrorist attack in Paris, the parent of a victim of terrorism and a former hostage have been targeted online for their compassion toward the children of Islamic militants. All three are taking the social media giant to court for non-action in the face of serious harassment.

Social media platforms somehow manage to remain the center of public discourse yet struggle to address the ensuing legal responsibilities. This is, in any case, what the subpoena sent to Twitter on Jan. 28 on behalf of three online harassment victims is trying to prove.

Aurélia Gilbert escaped one of the ISIS-backed terrorist attacks that rocked Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, when assailants besieged the Bataclan, a popular concert venue. In the summer of 2020, she tweeted in defense of the repatriation of the children of French jihadists detained in Syria. Her tweets led to a flood of hate speech: "Too bad they missed her," "If all the victims of November 13th were like her, maybe it wasn't so bad after all."

"A line is being crossed and it's not just virtual," she said, still in shock. "My account was hacked, they published my phone number adding that I was a traitor to the country."

She filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor, which opened a preliminary investigation via the BRDP, a brigade dedicated to repressing delinquency. But, on Jan. 8 2021, her complaint was filed away without any follow-up: Twitter had simply not responded to the warrant ordering the company to provide information that would allow the identification of the accused harassers.

"I was told to stop going on social media, which isn't right. We can't let fear settle in — not at the Bataclan and not on social media."

Georges Salines, father of a young woman killed at the Bataclan, found himself in the same situation. He was also subjected to threats and insults following his tweet in favor of repatriating the children of French jihadists in Aug. 2020. He, too, filed a complaint that gave way to a preliminary investigation. Once again, Twitter refused to reply to the police's demands for information, this time claiming an international interrogation committee was needed. Due to a lack of response, the complaint was filed away. Salines is furious: "I find it incredible that the court can dismiss a case because the company ordered to provide information failed to do so."

The social network has dragged its feet in responding to court injunctions.

The third case is journalist Nicolas Hénin, who was taken hostage by ISIS for 10 months. Harassed with death threats on social media in 2019 because he reported a tweet calling for the murder of the children of jihadists, he filed a complaint and an investigation was opened. For a third time, Twitter — which had acknowledged the receipt of the police's requests — asked for clarification and delayed action for months, leading to the police's dismissal of the complaint due to the perpetrator being "unknown."

Whether due to a lack of resources or a deliberate policy, the social network has dragged its feet in responding to court injunctions, preventing many investigations of online harassment from being carried out.

Eric Morain and Antoine Vey, the lawyers of these three victims, have their sights set on bringing Twitter to task. They're suing the company through Paris' criminal court, accusing it of "complicity in public insult and provocation" and "refusal to comply with the request of judicial authorities' via its inaction. When contacted by Le Monde, Twitter declined to comment on the legal proceedings or the delays of its moderation process.

The platform is regularly singled out for its inefficiency to moderate content and their very long delays in suppressing messages. In June 2020, the annual barometer conducted by the European Commission on the effectiveness of moderation systems had particularly severe results for Twitter. Over the past year, it deleted only 35.9% of messages reported by European associations, whereas Facebook deleted more than 87% of reported content.

These figures do not "correspond to expectations' and are even "decreasing in comparison to 2019," according to the Commission. Twitter is also the social media platform that takes the longest to process reported content, as the law of many EU countries decrees reported content must be examined in under 24 hours and a quarter of Twitter's alerts take longer to be treated.

In France, the social network is also in a mediation procedure with four organizations: the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF), J'accuse, SOS-Racisme and SOS-Homophobia. In May 2020, following a "testing" phase during which these organizations noted only 11% of content they reported had been deleted by Twitter, they brought Twitter to court in order to obtain detailed figures on the resources the company devotes to moderation and their fight against hate speech.

During the hearing – which took place three days after Samuel Paty, a French teacher, was beheaded by a terrorist — the court proposed mediation, a decision accepted by all parties and this is still ongoing, according to Le Monde's sources. If the mediation fails, a new hearing will take place.

"Facebook has no problem responding to judicial warrants. But this is not the case with Twitter," Morain explains. In Sept. 2020, an internet user who posted a video on Facebook threatening to kill Mila, a young woman harassed for her hostile attitude towards Islam, was condemned to three years in prison with 18 months imposed serving time. and his sentence was upheld during an appeal on Jan. 28.

On Twitter, it's much more difficult to identify and convict a perpetrator of harassment. "And yet these are serious cases," continues Morain, who feels the social network "doesn't do enough to ensure the safety of its users."

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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