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Tech giants recently announced crackdowns on hateful and violent comments. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

France online hate speech law to force social media sites to act quickly

Sites that fail to remove ‘obviously hateful’ content within 24 hours risk fines

WT24 Desk

French MPs have passed a landmark law to fight online hate speech that will oblige social media networks to remove offending content within 24 hours and create a new button to enable users to flag abuse, AFP reports.

Members of the lower house of parliament voted 434 to 33 to adopt the law, which is modelled on German legislation that came into force last year. Sixty-nine MPs abstained.

Sites that fail to comply with the law and remove “obviously hateful” content risk fines of up to €1.25m (£1.12m). The upper house, the senate, will now examine the legislation, and could suggest amendments.

A series of tech companies including Facebook and YouTube announced crackdowns on hateful and violent content in recent months, spurring calls for tougher regulation.

Governments accused online platforms of not doing enough to stamp out hate speech at a Paris summit in May after a gunman livestreamed his attack on two New Zealand mosques on Facebook via a head-mounted camera. The footage was shared millions of times despite efforts to remove it.

“We must ensure the safety and protection of people online, especially the most vulnerable,” said Laetitia Avia, who drafted the bill. She told parliament last week she received so many racist insults on Twitter that she once thought an abuse-free day was the result of a technical problem.

Critics say the law places too much power in platforms’ hands by making them arbiters of online speech.

Facebook has questioned whether the 24-hour window to remove hateful content is realistic, saying many posts require careful analysis and tricky legal assessment.

MPs debated long into the night last week to try to agree on what constitutes “obviously hateful” messages or videos. They agreed to include condoning crimes against humanity, but amendments seeking to integrate specific references to anti-Zionism and hate against the state of Israel were rejected and did not make the final text.

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