French Government Passes Hate Speech Law, Will Allow Law Enforcement To Run The Internet

from the thanks-I-hate-it dept

Whatever ills there are in the world, the French government is pretty sure American tech companies should solve them. Or, at the very least, agree to be punished for failing to prevent the unpreventable.

Having decided Google should pay French newspapers for sending them traffic, the French government is finally enacting its long-threatened “hate speech” law — one that took all the bad/backfiring ideas from Germany’s hate speech legislation, reformatting it slightly for French sensibilities.

Officials claimed it was more difficult to remove anti-Semitic speech than it was to remove pirated content, which must have come as a surprise to several incumbent industries. The law falls into one of those “we’ll know it when we see it” gray areas that tech companies will be forced to police. Facebook has already helpfully offered to forward user info to French authorities to ensure no online stupidity goes unpunished. And special interest groups have already offered their input, asking the government to treat things like the online disparagement of agriculture and livestock breeding as a criminal act.

The law is now in place, reports Politico.

After months of debate, the lower house of Parliament adopted the controversial legislation, which will require platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook to remove flagged hateful content within 24 hours and flagged terrorist propaganda within one hour. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to €1.25 million.

The law, which echoes similar rules already in place in Germany, piles more pressure on Silicon Valley firms to police millions of daily posts in Europe’s two most populous countries.

Apparently this legislation has been at the top of the French government’s to-do list for a couple of years now. Politico points out it’s the first non-Covid-related legislation to have come up for a vote since the middle of March. Supposedly the French public demanded action, albeit indirectly.

“During the lockdown, hate speech online has increased … We can no longer rely on the platforms’ goodwill…” Junior Digital Affairs Minister Cédric O told the National Assembly ahead of the vote.

Having more people online more often is going to increase anything, not just “hate speech” the French government believes it can regulate into nonexistence. The bill’s passage also comes front-loaded with irony. MP Laetitia Avia, one of the sponsors of the law, has been accused of making racist, homophobic, and sexist comments to her assistants.

The law has received plenty of criticism on its way to a vote, but nothing seems to have stopped its momentum — not even the EU Commission’s assertion that France’s hate speech law is not compliant with EU law.

What’s next for platforms is more of the impossible: moderation at scale targeting speech that isn’t easy to target. Expect collateral damage, starting with satire and moving on to those who attempt to highlight hateful speech by others, only to find themselves censored and/or prosecuted for pointing out the bigotry of others.

This hate speech law has been cobbled onto existing anti-terrorism laws, turning law enforcement into the final arbiters of perceived offenses. Any notions of due process have been eliminated, streamlining the consolidation of power to a single branch of the government. This is digital rights group NGO La Quadrature’s assessment of the law.

The separation of powers is entirely ruled out : it is the police who decide the criteria for censoring a site (in law, the concept of “terrorism” is broad enough to give it wide discretion, for example against demonstrators ); the police decide whether a site should be censored; it is the police who execute the sanction against the site. The judge is completely absent from the entire chain that leads to site censorship.

At the very least, the law is a handy way for the French government to insert itself into the moderation efforts of companies located halfway around the world. Setting up impossible mandates guarantees failure by those affected by them. And it’s not just going to make companies like Facebook and Google reconsider their offerings in other countries. It’s going to prevent new platforms and services from entering the market, since they’ll be asked to do the impossible the moment they start hosting content created by French users. Meanwhile, French citizens are being asked to fund the diminishing of their own free speech rights — all under the guise of stopping hate and terrorism. All the while, regulators can sit back on watch the tech company-targeting money printer go brrrrr.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “French Government Passes Hate Speech Law, Will Allow Law Enforcement To Run The Internet”

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18 Comments

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Anonymous Coward says:

And how long ago was i shouted down on here that the Internet would always be free, open, run for the good of everyone and not controlled by any government or industry? Now look what has happened! And anyone who thinks it’ll only be the fucking frogs that do this is in cloud cuckoo land! This is the thin end of the wedge, a wedge that’s gonna remove public use of the ‘net unless permission is given to access it! And it all started with the US backing the entertainment industries! They’re laughing their bollocks off now! Getting everything they wanted!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"the Internet would always be free, open, run for the good of everyone and not controlled by any government or industry"

This, I can’t say I have read this here.

"the Internet should always be free, open, run for the good of everyone and not controlled by any government or industry"

This, I’d bet my ass I have read it here. And I fucking really hope someday it turns true.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

How about now?

Judge, jury and executioner, all in one. Nice of them to show just how much open contempt they have for the idea of checks and balances and due process.

It baffles me that Google is still operating in that dumpster-fire of a country, given how utterly obsessed the french government is with trying to control everything that people are allowed to say or do online.

Google and Facebook really just need to cut their losses and leave, with a large notice to any french users that if they want the services back then they can reign in their insane politicians who apparently think that they get to dictate to everyone what they will generously allow on the internet.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: How about now?

"Google and Facebook really just need to cut their losses and leave, with a large notice to any french users that if they want the services back then they can reign in their insane politicians…"

All they have to do is close down their french domains, ensuring that every frenchman who wants to go on FB or use Google effectively goes to a location outside of france.

Really, the "nuclear option" Google has here only hurts France which stands to become an internet nonentity forever piggybacking on other countries.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: How about now?

Google and Facebook really just need to cut their losses and leave, with a large notice to any french users

One disadvantage to this, from the govt perspective, is that there would be no taxable presence in France. Also no google jobs there. It might make things more ahem challenging for advertisers in France hoping to reach their natural targets, but surely that is not Google’s problem.

Google’s problem is that it would like to make money from France. The offsetting problem is that engaging sufficient staff to deal with the local demands, which are likely to be echoed in other blighted pestholes around the globe, could get expensive.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

You know how corporations remove third party speech from their platforms because they don’t want that speech on their platforms? We call that “moderation”.

This shit that France has planned, where government officials (i.e., the cops) will get to tell privately owned platforms what speech they can and cannot, will and will not, must and must not host? Yeah, we call that “censorship”.

I would hope this puts an end to people conflating the two, but trusting to hope in [Current Year] would make me a fool.

Richard M (profile) says:

Take their toys and go home

The best way to put an end of this idiocy is for companies to just pull out of France. I have no idea how much money Google and Facebook make in France but I find it somewhat hard to believe that it a large percentage of their profits.

If the two companies do not do something drastic this will keep happening in other countries as well.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Take their toys and go home

"I have no idea how much money Google and Facebook make in France but I find it somewhat hard to believe that it a large percentage of their profits. "

Perhaps ironically if Google shuts down every french server and their french domain it won’t stop french citizens from accessing google – just that it will be doing so outside of french jurisdiction.

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