France and Facebook unite to curb hate speech

France is working closely with Facebook to crack down on hate content on the internet.

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Facebook has agreed, in a deal unique to France, to hand identification data of French users suspected of hate speech over to judges, Digital Affairs Minister Cédric O said.

Previously, the social media giant co-operated with French justice only on matters involving terror attacks and violent acts and only after formal demands from judges.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We will no longer refer French law enforcement authorities to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process to request basic information in criminal hate speech cases.”

The agreement followed a meeting between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and President Macron.

Facebook also said it will work with the French government on a new law that has had its first reading in Parliament, which will give media giants up to 24 hours to remove offending comments or face fines of up to 4% of the company’s turnover.

Laetitia Avia, the French MP who drafted the bill, inspired by similar German legislation, said: “I want to make sure that words which would not be tolerated on a bus, in a restaurant or in a public space should also not be tolerated online.”

Civil rights groups have argued that the law gives too much power to social media companies.

Facebook says it has had a long-lasting collaboration with France on hate content.

It said: “We will continue to work closely with [French media regulatory body] the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel and other interested parties to allow this future law to be applied correctly.”

Facebook has not reacted as favourably to France’s other law to control internet giants this summer, which introduces a 3% tax on what they estimate the turnover of the so called GAFA companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon to be in France.

Parliament voted for the law after there was failure to agree on a Europe wide solution on how to make these companies pay tax in countries where they operate but are not based.

The law applies to companies with annual revenues of at least €750million globally and €25million in France. It is estimated it will concern around 30 companies, most of them American.

President Trump has already retaliated by threatening to tax imports of French wine and the US Trade Representative Office has opened an investigation into the new tax.

Facebook said “We voluntarily introduced a sales centre in France in 2018. So, all revenue coming from our advertisers supported by our teams in France are registered in France.”

Together with the other GAFA companies, Facebook says it would prefer tax reform to be decided on an international level by the OECD, instead of unilaterally by France.