To Be or Note2be, France Answers The Question

The Cost Of Compliance

At the beginning of this month, the French government took a bold step in an Orwellian direction. Note2be, a hugely successful networking site where students could go and rate their teachers’ performance, was directed to censor all the content on its site, removing all teachers’ names from any post by any user. If the site failed to comply, the fine would be 1,000 Euros every day until the site was in compliance.

The site had been online only since late January, but already over 50,000 teachers had marks rated on them. And the marks were overwhelmingly positive, with an average rating of well over 65% favorable. And it’s not like this was a new idea. Other countries have sites like this as well. The popular e-magazine Techdirt reports:

Sites like and have been around in the US for ages, but it appears that some other countries aren’t too thrilled with the concept. Last year, a teachers’ union in the UK demanded that the sites be banned which seemed a bit extreme.

It should be noted that the attempt to ban those sites in the UK appear to have failed. So what was it that prompted the French government to rule against the site? The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports it this way, as found on AFP.Google:

A group of teachers and several teachers’ union asked a Paris court to decide whether the site broke privacy laws by publishing teachers’ names and ratings and whether it breached their right to be judged only by superiors.

On Monday, the court ordered the site to stop using teachers’ names both on the general site and in its discussion forums and said it would impose a fine of 1,000 euros per day for each day it failed to implement the judgment.

“The exercise of freedom of information and of expression has as limits that it does not damage teaching activities,” it said.

A Different Opinion

There are a couple of things there that bother someone such as myself. The first: “their right to be judged only by superiors”? I should hope that I would not need to add an expository statement to clarify my abhorence to the logic that could justify that way of thinking. To me, it sounds medieval. I get a picture in my mind of serfs, and the men who walk upon them. The second thing: While I agree with the final statement there, I don’t see how it’s applicable in this case. How does publishing these names “damage teaching activities”?

This isn’t the 1st time this particular question has raised itself before the European people. The German courts last year decided something completely different, when faced with essentially the same question. AFP reports:

Last year a German court, hearing a case taken by a teacher against a rating site, ruled that teachers could be rated online by their pupils.

It said the ratings, so long as they were not defamatory, were allowable under the principles of freedom of expression and that publishing a teacher’s name was acceptable because it could easily be found on the school’s website.

Not To Be

In searching for information while writing this piece, I was surprised how much of the English speaking web was simply ignoring it. I was finally able to find a quote from one of the founders of Note2be, on WebProNews:

“This is an astonishing and surprising decision that has worrying implications for the development of the Web,” said Stephane Cola, who co-founded the site, Reuters reported. “The ranking and evaluation of professionals on the Web is a fundamental principle and a primary motor of the Internet around the world,” he told reporters after the verdict.”

In the end, for whatever logic or illogic there was behind the decision, the ultimate and unstated goal was achieved. By requiring the site to remove and monitor every single communication, the government placed impossible restrictions on the operation of the site, and it had to shut down to comply with the ruling. From the note on their front page: “This decision calls into question the operation even of all the forums of discussion, blogs and Community sites where the Net surfers could express themselves freely on the French Net.


Click on the thumbnail for a larger view. What you’ll see is a part of the website as it looks March 11th. The site’s in French, and though alot of you will no doubt be able to read it, some will not. So there’s a translation of the text which I got from Babelfish. It’s worth reading.

I am Jon. Thanks for stopping by.