France Requires Social Media Firms To Remove Content Within One Hour

The French parliament has passed a controversial hate speech law on Wednesday that could spell a great deal of difficulty for social media firms.

The law will essentially fine social media companies if they fail to remove certain illegal content within 24 hours. But in some cases the firms would just have one hour to remove the content, CNN reported.

The new law concerning hate speech based on a number of a criteria, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability, as well as sexual harassment. All of those categories have a takedown timeframe of just 24 hours, after being flagged.

Hate speech

But hate speech to do with terrorist or child pornography content must be removed within one hour of being flagged.

And social media firms risk stiff penalties if they do not adhere to the tight takedown timeframes.

Indeed, firms such as Twitter, Facebook and others could face fines of up to 1.25 million euros ($1.36 million) in the event they fail to follow the regulations.

There are no fines if platforms prematurely remove content that is later deemed acceptable, CNN reported.

The law is controversial, not only because it gives social media firms very little time to takedown content, but also because some experts fear the law will grant the government unprecedented power to censor online activities.

A spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, a French association against censorship and surveillance on the internet, told CNN this law could give political actors “a new tool to abuse their power and censor the internet for political ends.”

“One of the dangers of this law is that it could turn against journalists, activists, and researchers whom it claims to defend. No one knows exactly what content should be considered ‘manifestly illegal’ online,” the spokesperson said.

“For many years, fighting online hate has been a top priority for Facebook,” the firm was quoted by CNN as saying in a statement on Wednesday. “We have clear rules against it and have invested in people and technology to better identify and remove it.”

“Regulation is important in helping combat this type of content,” Facebook said. “We will work closely with the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel and other stakeholders on the implementation of this law.”

It should be noted that Germany already has a similar law (since 2018) that requires social media platforms to remove hate speech and fake news within 24 hours of it being flagged, or face penalties of up to roughly $60 million.

Fine line

But tough laws and rulings on tech firms like this does risk unintended consequences.

One recent notable example was in April this year, when Amazon announced that it was closing all of its warehouses in France, after a ruling by a French court limited its ability to trade in that country.

The French court had ordered Amazon to limit deliveries to essential goods such as food and medical supplies during the Coronavirus pandemic, in a case brought by a French trade union.

The French court had originally ruled that Amazon had to carry out a more thorough assessment of the risk of coronavirus contagion at its warehouses, and should restrict its deliveries in the meantime, or face a fine, while it improved its health measures.

Amazon instead opted to close all six of its warehouses in France in response, in a move that impacted 10,000 permanent and interim workers (6,500 are permanent workers).

The closure of the Amazon warehouses has not just hurt its workforce in that country, but also 10,000 smaller third-party traders that sell and ship their goods via the Amazon logistics juggernaut.

Amazon’s French warehouses were closed on 16 April, and Amazon has extended the French shutdown of its warehouses until 13 May.

That said, France was one of the first European nations to place a digital tax on tech firms operating within its borders.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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