French government announces new plans for policing “hate speech” on big social media platforms

The continued encroachment on online free speech never ends.

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Despite there being numerous examples of how “hate speech” rules are often used to target jokes and people’s political opinions, the French government is pushing ahead with new plans to police “hate speech” that’s posted to large social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

The plans were published in a report (Google Translate link) on France’s digital government website which is titled “Rapport de la mission de régulation des réseaux sociaux” (Report of the mission to regulate social networks). The plans are non-binding but France says the report will feed the parliamentary debates around potential new laws over the coming months.

The report is based on a months-long experiment which involved 10 French officials reviewing Facebook’s internal content moderation processes and has been welcomed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who said:

“Hopefully, this regulatory framework won’t be just a national model for France, but it can be worked as a framework for the EU overall as the next European Parliament comes.”

The report proposes a framework similar to the banking regulations in many jurisdictions where regulators require banks to have processes in place that protect their customers against fraud but don’t punish banks for individual instances of fraud. It suggests requiring large social media companies to have adequate processes for preventing the publication of “hate speech” on their platforms but not holding them liable for individual instances of “hate speech” that are posted to their platforms.

Under this framework, an independent regulator in France would be given the authority to audit large social media companies and fine those that don’t have adequate processes in place for policing “hate speech.” The maximum proposed fine is the same as the current maximum fine for companies that violate General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws – 4% of global annual revenue.

According to Politico, French President Emmanuel Macron is likely to propose some of the recommendations from this report to the Group of Seven Nations (G7) – a forum of seven countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – which collectively represent the world’s seven largest economies.

The French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Cédric O added that the scope of the recommendations from the report may be widened beyond “hate speech” and used to regulate “misinformation” and “terrorist propaganda.”

These plans to police “hate speech” come after France and the European Union (EU) have introduced numerous laws and proposed various rules that target online speech.

Last year, France introduced a “fake news” law which requires social media sites to control “misinformation” on their platforms. Macron has also proposed that people who are convicted of “hate speech” in France should be banned from social media for life.

The EU’s crackdowns on online speech include the introduction of the widely panned EU Copyright Directive, which mandates link taxes and content-blocking upload filters, and the EU Terrorist Content Regulation, which many critics fear will stifle free speech online.

Despite their efforts to police the flow of information online, both France and the EU have shown that they’re unable to follow the guidelines they lay out in their laws. France’s “fake news” law backfired spectacularly when Twitter blocked ads from the French government in an effort to comply with the law and earlier this year, official EU agencies falsely reported more than 500 posts from the Internet Archive as terrorist content.

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