French parliament adopts controversial online hate speech bill

French lawmakers on Wednesday approved a controversial bill to ban hate speech on social media, a measure dismissed as censorship by detractors.

French parliament adopts controversial online hate speech bill
The bill was adopted by a show of hands in the lower house National Assembly. Photo: AFP

The law obliges platforms and search engines to remove offensive content – incitement to hate or violence and racist or religious bigotry – within 24 hours or risk a fine of up to €1,25 million.

The bill was adopted by a show of hands in the lower house National Assembly. Right-wing parties voted against while socialists mainly abstained.

It had in February passed through the upper house senate, where senators
had registered their opposition to the 24-hour rule.

Critics say the proposal will make Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple the custodians of freedom of expression.

READ ALSO: What you should know about France's new online hate speech bill

The law was the first with no link to the ongoing coronavirus emergency to be voted on in the National Assembly, where President Emmanuel Macron's party holds a majority, since the epidemic hit France.

An extension of Macron's vow to battle racism and anti-Semitism propagated via the internet, the bill was first submitted to parliament over a year ago.

It has since been amended several times in response to criticism and comments, including from the European Commission which demanded a clearer definition of what kind of content would be criminalised.

The draft has drawn criticism from watchdog bodies in France that have expressed concerns over potential violations of the right to freely express oneself on the world wide web.

Digital companies are worried about fines or legal battles that may result from the new onus placed on them to determine what content violates the bill, and then withdraw it within the given timeframe.

In another controversy, Laetitia Avia, the MP from Macron's party who proposed the bill, has faced accusations by the Mediapart online newspaper of “repeatedly humiliating” five former staff members and using sexist, homophobic and racist language.

She has denounced the accusations as “lies” and said that she will sue for libel.

Member comments

  1. It is a good step forward in forcing the digital giants to take responsibility for what is peddled over their platforms. Having reported very clear, targeted racist/incitement to violence posts on Facebook, only to be informed that they ‘did not breach community standards’, I do hope that this measure will force them to take the issue more seriously.

  2. It’s just another form of censorship of the “net” by people with a chip on their shoulder against large media platforms. These people manage to suck the life out of everything they don’t agree with.

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Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row

Google's legal tussle with French regulators continues.

Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row
Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

Google on Wednesday said it is appealing a decision by France’s competition watchdog to hand it a €500m fine in a row with news outlets over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

“We disagree with some of the legal elements, and consider the amount of the fine to be disproportionate compared to the efforts we have put in place to reach a deal and respect the new law,” Sebastien Missoffe, head of Google France, said in a statement.

The fine, issued by the French Competition Authority in July, was the biggest in the agency’s history for a failure to comply with one of its rulings.

Head of Google France, Sebastien Missoffe, has hit back against French regulators (Photo by JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP)

The watchdog said Google had failed to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies in a long-running legal battle over the internet giant’s use of snippets of articles, photos and videos in search results.

The row has centred on claims that Google has used this content in its search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the search giant over the past two decades.

In April last year, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 European Union law governing digital copyright.

The so-called “neighbouring rights” aim to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

Last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

While Google insists it has made progress, the French regulator said the company’s behaviour “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

The Competition Authority rebuked Google for failing to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Missoffe insisted Wednesday that Google “recognises neighbouring rights, and we remain committed to signing agreements in France”.

“We have extended our offers to nearly 1,200 publishers and modified aspects of our contracts,” he said, adding that the company has “shared data demanded of us in order to conform to the Competition Authority’s decision”.