Social media companies in France will now be fined if they fail to remove some particular illegal content within 24 hours – and in some specific cases, within just one hour, according to a new controversial hate speech law that was passed by the French parliament on Wednesday.
Any hate comments based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability, as well as sexual harassment will now have to be removed by social media companies within 24 hours of such comments being flagged by users under the new regulations. The time limit is just one hour since being flagged for comments or content related to terrorism and child pornography.
If tech platforms do not comply with these directives, they could be fined up to €1.25 million ($1.36 million). In the case that social media platforms permanently remove content that is later deemed acceptable, there will no fines imposed.
The government will gain unprecedented power to censor online activities through this law, fear some legal experts and activists.
This law could give political actors “a new tool to abuse their power and censor the internet for political ends”, a spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, a French association against censorship and surveillance on the internet, told the media. “One of the dangers of this law is that it could turn against journalists, activists, and researchers whom it claims to defend. No one knows exactly what content should be considered ‘manifestly illegal’ online,” the spokesperson said.
France was requested in November last year by the European Commission to not pass this law until such time that the Digital Services Act, an rehashed and improved version of the how the EU regulates digital platforms, is formulated and implemented across the European Union. But the call was not heeded to by the French government. The country’s Digital Minister Cédric O had said that they will “lean on national hate speech law to weigh in on the Digital Service Act [proposed by EU Commissions].”
Bringing tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter has been one of the important issues for French President Emmanuel Macron according to critics and analysts. The importance of this law can be gauged form the fact that this was the first law since March that was taken up by France’s Lower House that is not related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“For many years, fighting online hate has been a top priority for Facebook. We have clear rules against it and have invested in people and technology to better identify and remove it,” a spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement Wednesday. “Regulation is important in helping combat this type of content. We will work closely with the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel and other stakeholders on the implementation of this law.”
The company is committed to building “a safer internet and (tackling) illegal online hate”, Audrey Herblin-Stoop, public affairs director for Twitter France, said in a statement. “Improving the health of the public conversation has been our number one priority for several years, and we are committed to protecting an open internet and freedom of expression, and exploring opportunities to address abuse and misleading information at scale,” Herblin-Stoop said.
No comments were available from Google.
(Adapted from CNN.com)