We may know that those who support rules that crackdown on speech are bound to have the tables turned on themselves eventually. It’s always the way. Threats to freedom of expression always backfire – yet, it seems that not everyone knows that yet.
On Wednesday of this week, France’s National Assembly will adopt a controversial new bill aimed at combating “hate speech” and “harmful content” on the internet.
The bill aims to attack “racist, sexist, and homophobic comments” online.
However, the author of the bill, MP Laetitia Avia, has herself now been called out for racist, sexist, and homophobic comments.
This week, Avia said “it’s a good time” for the bill to be introduced because during the lockdown there has been an 14% increase in “hateful” posts online.
She accuses large platforms like Facebook and Instagram of having reduced their censorship capacity, “by taking refuge behind the excuse of teleworking”.
(Those of us paying attention will know Facebook’s censorship is running just fine during the lockdowns – perhaps even worse than usual in the last few weeks.)
But Avia can’t celebrate her infliction of a new censorship-driven law on the French people, because she herself is now embroiled in controversy for speech-related incidents.
Avia positions herself as a warrior against “racism, homophobia, and sexism,” and now her staffers are saying she’s guilty of all three.
According to her former staffers, there is actually “a gap between the values she has and the values she defends publicly.” In fact, according to those who know her best, Laetitia Avia is said to have discriminated against her employees daily – according to an investigation from Mediapart.
One of her former assistants of Asian origin did not want to testify about Avia but another source called him “her [Avia’s] scapegoat,” and said that “she sometimes called him ‘the Chinese’ or referred to him with racist stereotypes.”
In 2018, Laetitia Avia joked in a meeting with her team, telling the Chinese man: “You are fake Chinese. You haven’t mastered the Mac [Apple Mac Computers].”
And Avia is no early adopter of supporting censorship. In 2017, she reprimanded the same employee for not having sufficiently scrubbed her image from the internet after an online article revealed that she had bitten a taxi driver.
In early 2018, Laetitia Avia welcomed the vote on an amendment in favor of LGBT refugees. But her words in private meetings with her assistants were controversial.
“We voted for the amendment of the PD”, she said proudly. In France, PD (or pédé) is often a pejorative term for homosexuals.
Avia is also accused of being rude to colleagues: “Regularly, she is herself very inappropriate regarding the sexual orientation of a homosexual colleague”, said the report.
Laetitia Avia publicly leads a relentless fight against sexism. She also co-wrote a report about street harassment. But in private, she’s accused of being very different. “She often insults the MPs whom she doesn’t like, calling them a pussy.” She also makes fun of their physique, revealed another former assistant, who kept several messages to prove it.
One colleague called Avia a “forth grade kid in school who hasn’t grown up and for whom life is a playground,” and said that abuse from her “can hurt a lot when you are the target.”
So there’s the author of France’s new hate speech law. The bill introduces extremely strict rules on online platforms to tackle mean content online. It creates an obligation on platform operators to make mean content inaccessible within a strict timeframe of 24 hours.
It has an extremely broad list of what constitutes illegal content – both manifestly illegal in that can be easily recognized and non-manifestly illegal content that would require contextual judgment by the social media platforms.
By the way, when approached for comment, Avia said accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia against her are “false allegations.”
Since Avia was contacted for comment via multiple methods, when she eventually replied she said, “You contacted me by phone, SMS, e-mail, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Thank you for agreeing to stop harassing me. I am sending a copy of this e-mail to my lawyer Basile Ader,” she threatened, and now feels “harassed,” apparently.