Reuters and Chris Dyer, Daily Mail & Reuters, June 26, 2019
Facebook has announced it will hand over the identities of French users suspected of posting hate speech on its platform to the courts.
In a world first, the tech giant has agreed to hand over the identification data of hate speech suspects on its platform to judges, France’s minister for digital affairs Cedric O said yesterday.
Facebook will share the IP addresses of accounts containing ‘homophobic, racist or anti-Semitic content’, a ministerial aide confirmed.
Facebook’s commitment ‘concerns only France’, an aide to digital affairs minister Cedric O said.
On Monday Facebook’s head of global affairs, and former British deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg said that governments, not companies, must regulate social networks.
‘It’s not for private companies, however big or small, to come up with those rules. It is for democratic politicians in the democratic world to do so,’ Clegg told the BBC.
The French parliament is to examine a bill on ‘cyber hatred’ which would require internet platforms to remove within 24 hours content deemed ‘manifestly illicit’ because of references to ‘race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disabilities’.
The decision by the world’s biggest social media network comes after successive meetings between Zuckerberg and Macron, who wants to take a leading role globally on the regulation of hate speech and the spread of false information online.
So far, Facebook has cooperated with French justice on matters related to terrorist attacks and violent acts by transferring the IP addresses and other identification data of suspected individuals to French judges who formally demanded it.
Following a meeting between Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, and O last week, the social media company has extended this cooperation to hate speech.
‘This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally,’ O told Reuters in an interview. ‘It’s really very important, they’re only doing it for France.’
Since his nomination as minister in March, O has made the fight against hate speech online a key priority through regular contacts with Facebook’s top executives, including founder Mark Zuckerberg.
‘It is a strong signal in terms of regulation,’ said Sonia Cisse, a counsel at law firm Linklaters, adding that it was a world first. ‘Hate speech is no longer considered part of freedom of speech, it’s now on the same level as terrorism.’
With Facebook’s latest move, France is now a clear frontrunner in the quest to regulate big social media outlets, and other platforms might follow suite, Cisse said.
France’s parliament, where Macron’s ruling party has a comfortable majority, is debating legislation that would give the new regulator the power to fine tech companies up to 4% of their global revenue if they don’t do enough to remove hateful content from their network.
The minister is also reluctant to support the idea of breaking up companies like Facebook or Google, whose size, weight on the Internet and financial firepower have turned them into systemic players just as much as big banks.
Facebook has been called a social media monopoly by co-founder Chris Hughes, and calls for a break-up of the group have intensified.