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Twitter makes mockery of French election laws

Widespread use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter is set to steamroller France's laws restricting the announcement of the results of Sunday's first-round presidential election.

For over 30 years, French voters have sat down in front of the radio or television after the last polling stations close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) to hear very accurate result predictions.

These are based on actual votes cast rather than the potentially troublesome exit polls used in many democracies.

The campaign officially ends on April 21, with candidates barred from making public statements and no opinion polls allowed to be published, in order to prevent others’ opinions or preliminary results swinging voters.

But polling organisations are authorised to be present when votes are counted after polling booths in the countryside and smaller towns close at 6 pm. They then publish predictions that are embargoed for French media.

The results, available before 7pm, are historically accurate to within less than one percentage point and are released by French media, principally television channels when the French gather to watch the evening news at 8pm.

While it would be illegal to publish the embargoed result predictions in France before 8pm, foreign media, notably francophone outlets in neighbouring Belgium and Switzerland, have no such compunction.

Add the speed of the Internet to the equation, along with France’s 23 million Facebook and three million Twitter accounts, and the law banning result predictions before 8:00 pm appears increasingly unworkable.

French media contacted by AFP, including key broadcasters, newspapers and magazines, said that they would abide by the embargo rule.

“One can criticise the law but we will respect it as long as we’re a media based in France,” an unnamed journalist at the website of conservative newspaper Le Figaro told AFP.

Nevertheless, many media are prepared to revise their position if other French media break the embargo.

Left-leaning daily Liberation said it “reserves the right” to publish results on its website “if the gap (between lead candidates) is big and if the sources are reliable,” said editor Nicolas Demorand.

DISCRIMINATION

Twitter appeals French court ruling on hate speech transparency

Twitter has appealed a French court decision that ordered it to give activists full access to all of its relevant documents on efforts to fight hate speech, lawyers and a judicial source said on Saturday.

Twitter appeals French court ruling on hate speech transparency
The Twitter logo is seen on a phone. Twitter has appealed a French court judgement requiring it to share documents with activist groups. Photo: Alastair Pike / AFP

In July, a French court ordered Twitter to grant six French anti-discrimination groups full access to all documents relating to the
company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applied to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter has appealed the decision and a hearing has been set for December 9, 2021, a judicial source told AFP, confirming information released by the groups’ lawyers.

Twitter and its lawyers declined to comment.

The July order said that Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fight homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as the offence of “condoning crimes against humanity”.

It also said Twitter must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

READ ALSO: French court orders Twitter to change smallprint over ‘abusive’ methods

The July ruling gave the San Francisco-based company two months to comply. Twitter can ask for a suspension pending the appeal.

The six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The groups campaign against homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media giants it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

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