France and Germany Move Against Online Hate Speech

Regulators in France are considering new ways to approach the issue of offensive content online. The action comes after a group of ministers, writing in Le Monde, said social media sites show people’s “darkest sides.”

President Emmanuel Macron introduced a bill to the public in February which would require tech companies to take a stricter approach to content policing. Motivated in part by a desire to tackle anti-Semitism, the leader of En Marche wants hateful comments removed within 24 hours.

Fellow party member Laetitia Avia, herself a victim of racist online behaviour, said: “There is no reason that comments that would not be tolerated on a bus, in a cafe or in school (…) should be tolerated on a website or network.”

The bill proposes fines of over €1 million for companies, plus personal fines of €250,000. Company executives could also face jail time for failing to remove harmful content.

Germany recently implemented similar legislation, and a first fine was handed out to Facebook on 30th June under their new rules. It was hit with a €2 million penalty for refusing to share data on hateful content.

Many worry that passing the responsibility for user-generated content to platforms will encourage overzealous censorship and harm free speech. It is argued that if a company risks financial harm by allowing sensitive material, then it is incentivised to always err on the side of takedowns.

Lawyer and media expert Christophe Bigot said to The New York Times: “How can one leave that analysis to a simple employee of a platform, even motivated by the best intentions? (…) They won’t take the risk of exposing their employer to a penalty equal to 4 percent of its revenue.”

Earlier this month, senior figures from Spark Networks, Match Group and The Meet Group participated in a discussion about content moderation and user safety in the dating space.

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