France unveils plan to fight ‘intolerable’ racism

UPDATED: France’s top ministers, lead by the PM Manuel Valls, unveiled on Friday the country's new plan to tackle rising racism and anti-Semitism in the country. Incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have rocketed since January’s terror attacks.

France unveils plan to fight 'intolerable' racism
The French government will reveal on Friday how it plans to tackle racism in France.Photo: AFP

The French government revealed on Friday a list of 40 measures for how it plans to crackdown on racism and anti-Semitism.

The measures, that will set the government back around €100 million are centred on the areas of the internet, schools and on toughening the law itself.

"Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims, of foreigners, homophobia are increasing in an intolerable manner," Manuel Valls said in the Paris suburb city of Creteil,  the scene of a brutal attack on a Jewish man and his girlfriend in December.

And in reference to those who fire off racist abuse on social media and other online platforms Valls said: "Passivity on the internet, it's over."

He said the plan provides for an establishment of "a national unit in the struggle against hate on the internet" and it will require require web hosting services to "have legal representation in France."

The move comes just over three months after the Paris terror attacks which prompted a spike in both Islamophobic and anti-Semitic acts.

On Thursday, the country's Islamophobia watchdog said anti-Muslim acts had lept six-fold in the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2014.

It also comes just two months after a damning report from the human rights watchdog The Council of Europe which concluded that the French public are becoming more racist and more intolerant towards minorities.

Essentially the government wants to stiffen the punishment on those found guilty of hate speech.

In the past, these cases were dealt with under France’s more lenient press laws, but now they will be dealt with through the stricter penal code, which will mean justice will be meted out quicker and the penalties will be tougher.

READ ALSO: 'France must combat rising racism urgently'

'France must combat rising racism urgently'
A marketplace in northern Paris. Photo: Admanchester/Flickr

Also any act that had an aggravating factor of anti-Semitism will also prompt tougher sanctions.

Much of the Islamophobic and anti-Semitic abuse is dished out online and the government wants to crackdown on those who “circulate racist words” on the web.

Their main weapon will be to block certain sites, as is already the case for those sites that glorify terrorism.

The main emphasis of the government’s drive to stamp out racism will focus on young people, hence the presence alongside Valls on Friday of the Minister of Education Najat-Vallaud Belkacem.

In schools, teacher training will be reinforced, head masters will be encouraged to report incidents, and students will visit various relevant memorial sites during their school years.

Group action law suits will also be allowed "to better fight against any discrimination."

Another aspect of the plan will be to offer a financial boost to charities involved in fighting racism.

“We need to show them that they are not alone,” said the Prime Minister’s office this week.

The €100 million ($108 million), will be used over three years to finance a large-scale communications campaign and various local-level initiatives.

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French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

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 Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

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 businesses 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.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.