France votes to fine social media companies that fail to remove hate speech

France votes to fine social media companies that fail to remove hate speech

French legislators voted Thursday to impose a hefty fine on social media companies that fail to remove hate speech from their platform, according to The Verge. The measure was approved by the lower house of the French Parliament, and will need the support of the upper chamber to become law. 

It would allow companies like Facebook and Twitter 24 hours to remove content that the government considers hate speech, to avoid a fine that could run as high as €1.25 million. 

The measure was proposed earlier this year by President Emmanuel Macron, to address what he identified as rising antisemitism and other extremism online. A similar law was passed in Germany last year, with fines ranging as high as €50 million. 

Lawmakers were split over how to define hate speech, but the measure would apply to videos or messages that incite or glorify terrorism, hate, violence, racism, or religious discrimination, according to the Associated Press.  The provision was added to a broader internet regulation bill. 

Macron has aimed to take a leading role in regulating US tech companies and addressing the spread of extremism and false information on internet platforms. 

“What is not tolerated on the street should not be tolerated on the internet,” Laetitia Avia, a member of Macron’s majority in the National Assembly, told reporters ahead of the vote. 

The French broadcasting authority, CSA, would enforce the sanctions, creating a dedicated prosecutor’s office. 

In March, 51 people were killed in a mass shooting at New Zealand Mosques that was broadcast on video over Facebook, contributing to pressure for social media companies to be more active in moderating content. 

Since then, Facebook has put stricter rules in place for streaming live video, and in a world first, agreed last month to turn over data on users suspected of hate speech to French courts.

But some free speech advocates are criticizing the new measure for failing to properly outline what content is prohibited. They say the ill-defined guidelines, combined with the steep fine and 24-hour limit, will force platforms to act quickly and err on the side of caution, removing content that may not clearly qualify as hate speech. 

According to Quadrature du Net, an internet free speech advocacy group:

“Imposing a 24-hour limit to remove clearly unlawful content is likely to result in significant restrictions on freedoms, such as the overblocking of lawful comments or the misuse of the measure for political censorship purposes.”

Photo by Remi Jouan [CC BY 4.0 (]