French MPs back bill forcing social media firms to remove hate speech

French MPs on Thursday backed a bill giving online platforms just 24 hours to remove hate speech or face hefty fines, the latest initiative in Europe to tackle online racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia.

French MPs back bill forcing social media firms to remove hate speech
Protesters outside the French parliament. Photo: The Local

Members of the lower house of parliament voted by 31 in favour to six against to adopt the first article of the bill tabled by President Emmanuel Macron's party, which is modelled on a similar German law.

Laetitia Avia, a MP for Emmanuel Macron's ruling La Republique en Marche party, proposed the law that would give online platforms 24 hours to remove hate speech. 

MP Laetitia Avia speaking in parliament. Photo: AFP

If it was not removed within 24 hours of being flagged, the company would face fines of up to €1.25 million.

“We should not tolerate on the internet what we do not tolerate on the street,” Laetitia Avia told parliament on Wednesday, adding that she herself could no longer bear being racially abused by social media trolls.

Critics say the law places too much power in the platforms' hands by making them arbiters of online speech.

MPs debated the bill late into the night Wednesday to try to agree on what constitutes “obviously hateful” messages or videos.

They agreed to include condoning crimes against humanity, but not hateful comments about the state of Israel.

A final vote on the full text is expected next Tuesday.

The law has had something of a stormy passage with members of the public, many of whom protested outside the French parliament; claiming it would restrict freedom of speech.

More than 100 people – many sporting yellow vests – assembled in Place du President-Edouard-Herriot to voice their opposition.

One man told The Local that the freedom of the 'yellow vest' protest movement was threatened by the proposed new law.

He said: “We are already being excluded and our voices are still unheard to this day. This law will give many the upper hand to automatically block the objections of the yellow vest protestors online.”

An elderly man proudly sporting a tricolore hat asked: “Why should we support a law that prevents men and women from expressing their opinions?”

An elderly woman echoed this sentiment. “I am 100 percent against this bill,” she said. “I stand here to defend freedom of speech. We have always been free in France, and I will never understand why they would like to enforce a law that goes against this.” 

Now that the bill has been passed by the National Assembly it will have to go the Senate for further debate.

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French watchdog fines Google and Amazon subsidiary €135m for unauthorised cookies

France's CNIL data privacy watchdog said on Thursday it had fined two Google units a total of €100 million and an Amazon subsidiary €35 million over advertising cookies.

French watchdog fines Google and Amazon subsidiary €135m for unauthorised cookies
Photo: AFP

The regulator said the fines were “for having placed advertising cookies on the computers of users … without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information.”

A cookie is a small piece of data stored on a user's computer browser that allows websites to identify users and remember their previous activity.

The CNIL said when a user visited the website, several cookies used for advertising purposes were automatically placed on his or her computer, without any action required on the user's part.

It said a similar thing happened when visiting one page on the website.

CNIL said this type of cookie “can only be placed after the user has expressed his or her consent” and thus violated regulations on receiving prior consent.

It faulted Google for providing insufficient privacy information for users as it did not let them know about the cookies which had been placed and that the procedure to block them still left one operational.

CNIL also said Amazon had not provided clear or complete information about the cookies it placed on computers of users until a redesign in September 2020.

Google also stopped placing cookies on the computers of users without consent in September, CNIL said, but added it still does not provide a sufficient explanation for their use.

The regulator said “no matter what path the users used to visit the website, they were either insufficiently informed or never informed of the fact that cookies were placed on their computer.”

The €35 million fine is on the Amazon Europe Core subsidiary.

CNIL imposed fines of €60 million on Google LLC and €40 million on Google Ireland Limited.