In A Speech Any Autocrat Would Love, French President Macron Insists The Internet Must Be Regulated

from the hate(d)-speech dept

Props to French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a busy week last week, what with the observance of the World War I armistice centennial, the Paris Peace Forum, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and various other related events. All drew attendees and attention from around the world to his capital city, and all required his participation in some significant way, including through the delivery of several speeches that each surely required substantial preparation to deliver so capably. Techdirt has already covered a few minor aspects of the IGF speech: the announcement that France would embed officials with Facebook, and reference to the “Paris Call.” But in terms of the major substance of the speech, there are few compliments that can be paid.

At best it was the sort of speech that someone completely new to tech policy might have come up with. Someone who, upon finding an imperfect situation, presumes that they are the first to notice the issue. And then takes it upon themselves to heroically step in to address the problem, despite the fact that their proposed “solution” reflects an incomplete understanding of the matter.

There are a number of ways this incomplete understanding infected his speech and undermined the quality of his recommendation. There was, for instance, his erroneous declaration that the Internet today is too much about content distributors not enough about content creators. This declaration alone suggests a very poor understanding of all the myriad ways people all over the world use the Internet to create and then disseminate their expressive works themselves. In and of itself it calls into question whether his overall suggestion is capable of being adequately protective of all this expression.

Because it appears not, and not just because of this limited understanding of how the Internet is used. It also ignores the critical countervailing concerns that have long deemed his proposed “fix” to be an unacceptable one. Because the “cure” he proposed — greater regulation of the Internet — is a dangerous one that would destroy all that he purports to want to protect.

We were off to a bad start with his initial skewering of net neutrality, a topic slated to be dealt with head-on by EU regulators next year. To summarize his general view on the subject: sure, we don’t want certain ideas to be marginalized. We should defend people’s access to the Internet, he said, but not always. He interprets the term “neutrality” to mean that all ideas have to be treated equally, but, in his view, some ideas are more equal than others. And this is what so offends him: net neutrality allows those who do not share “our values” to spread their ideas too.

This appeal to “values” was a recurring reference that underpinned his speech. Thanks to the Internet, Macron said, we saw an upsurge in democracy (i.e. Tahrir Square). Now, however, he complained, the Internet is being deployed by fringe elements to work against those democratic values. As he put it, in the name of liberty we are allowing the enemies of liberty to speak, and this, Macron insisted, needs to end through the imposition of regulation on the Internet and its actors.

Of course it’s not that the values he champions are bad: liberal democracy and personal liberty are certainly worth defending. And he’s right to recognize that the Internet can be a valuable tool for advancing those values. He’s also right to observe that some use the Internet to advance contrary values. But any autocrat can make the very same argument about how regulation of expressive technology is necessary to preserve a society’s “values,” and nearly all do.

There is nothing magical about any particular set of values that makes regulation designed to enforce them better than regulation designed to suppress them. Regulation that gives someone the power to decide which values are the good ones and which are the bad is regulation that gives someone the power to suppress any values, including the ones you prefer. Indeed, that’s the very point of the very values he champions, to ensure that no one gets that power. You simply can’t create that power and expect it not to be used badly.

At some level Macron understands this problem. In the same speech he lamented the autocratic approach of “China Cyberspace” as being a poor choice for the Internet’s future, and yet that’s exactly the future he invites as he calls for the Internet to be as tightly controlled by his preferred regulators as China would want it to be by its own.

But Macron fears that the only other choice to the regulatory solution he proposes is “California Cyberspace,” where California-based companies instead are the de facto regulators of the Internet.

Again, though, Macron misapprehends the current situation, in at least two significant ways. First, part of his objection to the Internet being “regulated” by California companies is that he didn’t vote for them, and thus he fears that he has no way to ensure that they act in a way that he considers sufficient to protect the values he prefers. But installing governments, even elected EU governments, as regulators of the Internet provides no guarantee that these values will be any better protected. France itself has members of the far right making increased inroads into government, as does Germany. The democratically-elected government in Poland is busy attacking its independent judiciary for not being nationalistic enough, while Hungary’s is currently attempting to ban protest. Just the day before Macron told the world how poisonous nationalism is, and yet the regulation he prescribes would give nationalists in governments the tools to cement their alternative values.

The other significant misapprehension upon which his proposal is based is that “California Cyberspace” is a lawless zone. But not all law must say no; the laws that have allowed the Internet to thrive in California and beyond have been laws that have said yes to innovation and expression and worked to protect them from interference, including Section 230, the First Amendment, and even, to a degree, the DMCA. All of these sorts of legal structures are what enable the actual protection of all those very same liberty values Macron says he wants to foster.

But that’s not the sort of regulatory approach Macron proposes. He wants one that will say no to technology — and, importantly, the expression facilitated by this technology — when he believes technology should say no to expression. In his mind this is a modest proposal, one that simply calls for regulation by international consensus via organizations like the IGF. He said this was to help transcend the “rifts” caused by different nations’ regulatory approaches. But given that next year’s IGF has been scheduled over Thanksgiving week, thereby shutting out many of the American participants who would prefer to observe one of the most significant holidays in the American calendar with their family, as is traditional, rather than on their own, working to save the Internet a continent away, it hardly seems like international pluralism is really high on the IGF agenda.

Instead it seems that the goal is to empower his own government with the ability to decide for the world what the Internet can be used for. While his call for this regulatory crackdown may be packaged up in language touting freedom, democracy, equality, and international cooperation, it is still the cry of the censor keen for the power to refuse others’ expression.

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Comments on “In A Speech Any Autocrat Would Love, French President Macron Insists The Internet Must Be Regulated”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Per news sites on the internet, sorry do not have URL, Facebook was and is prime factor in continuing revolution in Sir Lanka.

Personally have no concept if this is true or not but from response to various news sites in different countries am assuming that it is true.

From responses of Facebook to this it would appear that because “Sinhalese and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka” (from Wikipedia)that the number of Facebook employees that could understands what was happening was minimum and lower level.

These actions raze a very interesting question of what is to be done when that language being used is not understandable to anyone out side that physical area, that the means of communication is being used to facilitate civil war, and that there is no culture of democracy but instead a culture of feudalism?

Gary (profile) says:

Re: War

Per news sites on the internet, sorry do not have URL, Facebook was and is prime factor in continuing revolution in Sir Lanka.

This is not what one could call a "Fact." In what way? Is the company Facebook telling everyone in the area to fight?

Facebook has allowed many people in the region to communicate as they never have before. And these people have discovered they really hate each other.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“sorry do not have URL”

I have to say that I’m always very suspicious of people who say they don’t have time to do a quick search for a citation but have time to type out several paragraphs – including claims of what specific outlets are supposed to have said – in the same medium.

You may be correct in what you’re saying, it just makes me wary.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Id argue that if the existence of facebook allowed those opressed by a less open government system to connect, share ideas, and in the end fermented a civil war, that could be a good thing. Of course, without a source I can’t try to sort how facebook was a prime factor, so its hard to say. But overall, on the surface, it sounds like facebook and free speech working in a potentially beneficial manner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Autocrat

… but the autocratic method is the essence of the government regulatory concept — smart prople in government forcibly direct the public to do things the proper way.
What could possiblly go wrong with such a noble approach?

As noted in this case: “… it seems that the goal is to empower his own government with the ability to decide for the world what the Internet can be used for.”

Bingo! Arbitrary power over others is the core basis and goal of all government regulation.

Excellent post by Ms Gellis.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Autocrat

And here we have Chip pointing out the problems with absolutes, in his own particular facetious manner.

Autocracy may be what government naturally leans towards, but it need not be the inevitable conclusion of what government leans towards. The libertarian ideal of a regulation-free environment is predicated on the idea that, in the absence of regulation, everyone will still do the right thing.

That is demonstrably not what happens.

All regulation needs to reviewed in context to determine its stated purpose, its actual purpose, and what effect it will have. Regulation can be a good thing, and good regulation is often argued for on this site – just look at the Net Neutrality category for article upon article lambasting the lack of regulation in the ISP sector that is allowing for massively consumer-unfriendly actions to continue.

Effective regulation to rein in the likes of Comcast would at its core be a method of returning a level of choice and control to the average person that the regional monopolies deny. This type of regulation would be anti-autocratic, because in this case, the autocrats are the companies that are being regulated – Comcast is the one trying to control what people can see and purchase and etc. The proposed regulation would prevent them from doing so.

Regulation of the nature proposed by Macron, considered in context, is indeed autocratic in nature, because it will take control away from the general user.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Thanks to the Internet, Macron said, we saw an upsurge in democracy (i.e. Tahrir Square).

And this is the point where he loses all credibility.

Enough time has passed now since the events of the Arab Spring that we can ask the question, are the general public in any of these countries better off today than they were before these events? Do they have more democracy? How about "the values of democracy"? Do people have more personal freedom? A higher standard of living? Are Christians and Jews and Sikhs and foreigners treated better today? Are women treated better today?

The answer overwhelmingly tends to be no, all they accomplished was to trade one oppressive Islamist regime for another.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Social media, nor the Internet, create democracy. The people who use those as a tool for communications do. That one entity in a struggle is stronger than other entities does not mean one should not try. Nor does it mean that the suppressed won’t try again, and that comminication, Internet based or not, will be a part of that next try.

Your annecdotes only show a part of the trip, someplace between the beginning and whatever the eventual ends might be.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What strawman? President Hosni Mubarak, who the Egyptian protests eventually forced out of office, was also a democratically elected leader. (At least for certain definitions of "democratic election," the standards of which have not really improved in the intervening years.)

Let’s look at it in context:

This appeal to "values" was a recurring reference that underpinned his speech. Thanks to the Internet, Macron said, we saw an upsurge in democracy (i.e. Tahrir Square). Now, however, he complained, the Internet is being deployed by fringe elements to work against those democratic values.

Macron is saying that the Internet helped catalyze an increase in democracy, which is good not in and of itself, but specifically because of the "democratic values" that come with it, and using Tahrir Square as an example of this. So when I point out that the results have not, in fact, involved an increase in democratic values, how is that a strawman?

Anonymous Coward says:

and no sooner will the Internet be ‘regulated’ than it will be handed over to the control of Hollywood and the entertainment industries, while none of ‘the friends of governments, the rich, the powerful, the famous’ will have any restrictions placed on them but us, the people, will be handicapped as much as possible so we cant find out anything that the fuckers above are up to!! this whole ‘regulated’ bit is because of what these fuckers are scared we will find out about them!the elite few are so used to being in charge, in control, they cant bear the thought that the people are now heading in that direction so the slave planet could become released!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Viande de cheval

"They ate the horse"

That’s one of the freedoms that people in France enjoy that people in the United States do not, such as this Miami businessman facing 10 years in prison under Florida state law.

And this past spring, a federal ban on horsemeat was quietly slipped into an emergency spending bill, which Trump dutifully signed.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Trust us(there's nothing anymore that says that you shouldn't)'

Given we’re talking about the president of a country that believes that it can export it’s ‘right’ to re-write history globally, I’m thinking he might not be the sort of person I want anywhere near the ability to decide the ‘standards’ or ‘values’ that are to be applied to the internet.

And this is what so offends him: net neutrality allows those who do not share "our values" to spread their ideas too.

An idea you can be damn sure that dictatorships and oppressive regimes absolutely love and would run a cross-country marathon with.

‘You claim that we’re suppressing free speech, but I tell you that we are merely cracking down on those that do not share our values to prevent them from spreading their corrupting influence to the public at large.’

His cherished ‘values’ could be abhorrent to others(I’m personally disgusted by the attempt to export their ‘right’ to re-write history), and the same could be true the other way. Much like free speech in the US sometimes means defending the rights of those you find repulsive, if you want a free internet rather than one where the easiest to offend get to set the rules you’ll just have to accept that some repulsive people will use it too.

John Smith says:

How DARE they try to regulate human behavior.

The internet is a PURGE where normal laws don’t apply, where people have no right to defend their reputation, or their copyright, and where BIG INTERNET’s need to exist is more important than some individual.


Thank GOD this website is speaking up for the big guy.

takitus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Thank GOD this website is speaking up for the big guy.

And you, John Smith, since apparently you have the freedom to comment here, um, on the Internet.

The internet is a PURGE where normal laws don’t apply, where people have no right to defend their reputation, or their copyright

(1) “Normal” law applies to the Internet—try committing fraud and see how far “I used a network connection to do it!” gets you as a defense. (2) See 1, libel laws are frequently used to remove content from the Internet. (3) Ever hear of content being taking down following a copyright claim? I know, it happens so infrequently…

Perhaps in your next comment you might try to respond to the article rather than spewing frequently-debunked talking points.

Anonymous Coward says:

All I want, personally, is for technology companies and people who have their ears to the ground on tech-focused issues to work together with somebody (be it governments, NGOs, etc.) to come up with methods that regular people (both individual and grassroots groups) can use to counteract the rising waves of nationalism and hate online. Methods that don’t break the current Internet we have right now.

Your average everyday person who’s not a tech-policy or First-Amendment wonk just wants a world where people can’t spread nonstop hate online point that’s effective, where it leads to violence and other nasty things offline. The constant twiddling of thumbs by policy wonks (like the ones here at Techdirt) repeating ad-nauseam “We believe that no content moderation at all is bad, but still, content moderation at scale is very difficult” doesn’t inspire confidence in said everyday people that things will get any better by listening to the wonks.

The push for legislators and regulators to Do Something™ is going to reach a point where organizations like the EFF, FFTF and more won’t be able to sway governments to protect a free and open Internet. I would like to see less wagging fingers at governments and more collaborating with them and other organizations to produce easily-replicatable methods and tactics to enable people, organizations, and private companies to counter online hate before it produces harmful offline consequences, methods and tactics that don’t run opposed to a free and open Internet.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The constant twiddling of thumbs by policy wonks (like the ones here at Techdirt) repeating ad-nauseam "We believe that no content moderation at all is bad, but still, content moderation at scale is very difficult" doesn’t inspire confidence in said everyday people that things will get any better by listening to the wonks.

If telling the truth does not inspire confidence, lying or doing nothing are not better alternatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They’re telling the truth, yes, but they seem almost reluctant to discuss what people should do based upon said truths. What causes the loss of confidence is the endless explanation without recommendation. Like I said, it’d be nice if policy experts could come together with governments, NGOs and what-not to create a set of guidelines and techniques to counter hate and hate speech that 1) Can be scaled up or down to be used by individuals, groups, and private companies and 2) Do not damage the current structure of the Internet, but rather keep it open and free.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I cannot blame those companies for their reluctance. Any suggestion meant only for a system of a certain size (e.g., a “solution” meant for a system the size of Facebook) could end up being mandated by the government for systems of all sizes. The rush to make that solution fit a system for which it was not built to match can cause far more problems than it would solve—though, admittedly, fitting a large-scale solution into a small-scale system would likely be easier than the inverse.

But even with that caveat in place, the human cost of operating such a system could also prove to be an unbearable burden. Imagine if every forum, comment section, etc. had to operate a ContentID-type system that looked for specific keywords, dogwhistles, and such so that those places could comply with a (purely hypothetical) “hate speech” law. How many smaller forums, blogs, etc. would be able to afford that tool? (If you think such a tool would ever be free, you underestimate capitalism.) How often would it need updating to stay compliant with the law? What data would the tool collect, and how long would the tool keep that information in its databases? What action would the people who run those forums, blogs, etc. need to take in re: recording a “catch” by the system and reporting it to the proper authorities? What happens if someone manages to sneak around the tool’s inherent limitations? What happens if someone is “caught” for, say, using a racial slur in the context of discussing the slur itself? What happens if the person who gets “caught” is in another country? Who must take responsibility for any missed catches and false positives? None of those questions have easy answers if they are meant to help create a “one size fits all” solution. That tech companies seem reluctant to suggest such solutions—and thus avoid answering those questions—strikes me as a pragmatic approach.

You are correct that they should be working on guidelines and techniques to counter hate speech and such. What you are misguided in, however, is the proposition that we need legislatures and regulators to help with that work. Any attempt by a government to find ways of regulating speech offers that government—and the wealthy political donors who fund the campaigns of our elected officials—an opportunity to regulate speech in ways that go well beyond addressing the original issue. I would not want to offer them that opportunity. For what reason should Facebook do so?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your average everyday person who’s not a tech-policy or First-Amendment wonk just wants a world where people can’t spread nonstop hate online point that’s effective,

In one respect they ask for the impossible, and in another they have the power to ignore it, with the latter being effective at stopping its spread.

Also, official censorship often has the effect of granting hate speech extra power, because easily led people can fall for the line that is is being suppressed, therefore it is true. I wonder how many extra subscribers Gabs recent problems have gained it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Internet regulation is code for censorship.
For he who shall haveth the information shall haveth the power.

This internet thing was once a novelty, but now the masses are using it to disseminate information, and information is power. The little people don’t how to control the power of information. We must take it away from them.

Remember, The Church had its readings and services in the dead language of Latin …The Church fought to keep the Bible in Latin even though it could not be understood by most people of the time.

ECA (profile) says:

Lets see how well we can say all this..

Conversation and debate is a great thing..
A little logic and concern can go along way..

Capitalism should be held back abit..HOLD it in check, and let the big guys fight back and forth and compete…
WHICH is what is happening on the net.

Politics should be held in check by those with agenda’s, Leave them to their own site and not advert, that “they are right we are wrong”, THAT mentality has caused more problems then any in history.

Debating religion and politics should be held into corners on the net..Where SOME can monitor it can FORCE others to stick to abit of logic and FACTS..

For some of you, that have not been around to long. You may not know that the USA and many other countries Tend to isolate information. They learned this in WW1 and WW2.. And Citizens learned allot about it in Korea and Vietnam. The BS train runs all the time.
A person asked how he could learn chemical sci. and I suggested he look up a few OLD chemical books from the 30’s.. because they had everything in them back in that time. Knowledge is power is very true, and part of the reason they dont TEACH this stuff any more until you are in College/university and 4-6 years into it..

UC Part says:

Globalists working together can explain anything.

The above is wishy-washy so as usual cannot be dissected. Instead I start with that Macron (approval rating now 25%) and this person are both globalists. So I assert, but it explains why Macron steals the terms of freedom while proposes a New World Internet. This person actually favors that, BUT hedges fearing Macron is too explicit and will give away the goal.

With those two assumptions in mind, one can verify it by the horror of both at "nationalism". This person attacks Populism (by labeling it as "far-right") in France and Germany and other nations that try to resist being swamped with hostile foreigners. — We’re just days after Macron / Merkel and un-elected rulers in Brussels are openly proposing an EU army that can enforce the "union" against member nations that are resisting unlimited immigrants.

But even if ignore the globalist aspects: this person ends up advising "Just leave the problem in hands of Silicon Valley. Don’t regulate!" — By not mentioning that Google is in process of tailoring a censoring engine for China, this person omits how "unregulated" Silicon Valley will simply and soon end up as the very censoring that claims to not want.

Key point is this person has not and does not object to the ACTUAL ongoing "de-platforming" of Infowars and Gab, instead worries about future efforts. Remember, this person and Masnick both state that corporations have a "First Amendment Right" to arbitrarily control access on "platforms". At best, any dissent will be shunted off to small sites (like Gab), which A) Google doesn’t have to index so will be effectively hidden, and B) Paypal and other payment processors can effectively de-fund, with result that all anti-corporation dissent is suppressed better than by gov’t. — That’s the current milieu in which this person blithely suggests NOT regulating Silicon Valley.

And of course, the solution to all these problems is to BREAK UP the very corporations that are the control mechanisms until they’re manage-able. But that obvious solution doesn’t occur to either Macron or this person! To them it’s practically UN-thinkable.

By the way, "Democrats" are now turning against Silicon Valley as not doing enough to disadvantage "Republicans", besides the Rooskis, so may turn out to do MORE regulating. It’s a bizarre world: the authoritarians can’t even keep their many plots coherent, as shown above: two Globalists both use the terms of freedom while hedging goal, and the fanboys here can’t find any key words to pick up on, so just buzz around aimlessly.

Midwest for Truth says:

Silence the People when the Truth is Spoken

What would one expect from worried Zionists (aka radical Jews)? The Zionists are desperate because much of the world is openly talking about the atrocities of Zionism, both past and present. The Internet has provided the world with open and free communication where the truth about Zionism is more frequently discussed. The Zionists feel the desperate need to stop such truth from being disseminated.

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