French Law to Fine Social Media Platforms for Hate Speech

France’s National Assembly passed a law that will fine social media companies up to €1.25 million ($1.36 million) for failing to remove “manifestly illicit” hate-speech posts within 24 hours of notification. Companies can be fined up to 4 percent of their global annual revenue if the violations are “serious and repeated.” The law, which will take effect July 1, also gives France’s audiovisual regulator the right to audit these companies’ systems for removing content. Critics claim “pre-emptive censorship.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “tech-company lobbyists and free-speech advocates have criticized the law, arguing that it would push large social-media platforms to remove a great number of controversial posts using automated tools, rather than risk incurring potentially astronomical fines.”

From France’s conservative Les Républicains party, which voted against the law, representative Constance Le Grip said, “fighting the spread of hate on the Internet is certainly necessary, but it must not happen at the expense of our freedom of expression.” The law is considered to be “a signature effort of French President Emmanuel Macron.”

France junior minister for digital affairs Cédric O stated, “we can no longer afford to rely on the goodwill of platforms and their voluntary promises … this is the first brick in a new paradigm of platform regulation.”

In addition to the French law, “the European Union’s executive arm is expected to propose what it calls a Digital Services Act” that would potentially overthrow “liability protections from its old e-commerce directive … [and] the U.K. is pursuing a related idea with legislation on what it calls Online Harms.” In 2018, Germany “implemented a law similar to the French one, threatening fines of up to €50 million for companies that systematically fail to remove several types of content deemed hateful within 24 hours.” Last year Germany fined Facebook €2 million under the law.

In response to the new French law, Facebook stated it would “work closely with French regulators on implementation of the law,” and Twitter said it shares a “commitment to build a safer Internet and tackle illegal online hate speech, while continuing to protect the Open Internet.”

The French law’s passage “came a day after the announcement of a proposed settlement of a U.S. lawsuit against Facebook that centered on … a class-action complaint originally filed in September 2018 claiming that content moderators for the Internet giant suffered psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder after they were required to review offensive and disturbing videos and images.”

Facebook agreed to pay $52 million, “from which each moderator can receive $1,000 that is intended for medical costs … [although] those diagnosed with certain conditions can be eligible for more money.” Facebook did not admit wrongdoing … [but] agreed to implement changes to its moderation practices including on-site coaching and enhanced controls for moderators over how imagery is displayed.”