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New world. Will the Avia law make it possible to curb online hatred without instituting censorship on social networks?

The applications of certain social networks on a smartphone. Illustrative photo. (DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

The government is releasing heavy artillery in an attempt to end unpunished torrents of hatred on social media. The Avia law, which has been under discussion for a year, was adopted on Wednesday May 13 by the National Assembly.

Main measure of the Avia law: web platforms with a large number of users (the threshold will be fixed by decree in a few weeks) will now have 24 hours, maximum, to delete any “manifestly illicit” message, such as, for example, attacks based on ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. To allow Internet users to easily report hate content, platforms will have to create a single button, the same everywhere, easy to use.

If the platforms concerned do not remove this content within the time allowed, fines of up to 1.25 million euros may be imposed. This is not all: if the phenomenon continues, sanctions may go up to 4% of world turnover, which is a very serious threat for these platforms, mainly American. New: it is the CSA, the Superior council of audio-visual, which will be in charge of imposing these sanctions and of evaluating the general action of the platforms as regards moderation. Another innovation: a specialized prosecution will be created to initiate legal proceedings against the authors of hate or harassment messages.

This law has been the subject of several criticisms. First, it means delegating to the platforms increased power to assess infringements. Once content has been flagged by Internet users, it is Facebook, Twitter or YouTube who will have to decide whether the content is really illegal and whether it should be deleted. This is already partly the case under the LCEN (Law for Confidence in the Digital Economy of 2004) but the Avia Law reinforces this obligation. This could be problematic for many content in what is known as a “gray area”, the illegality of which is not easy to assess.

The new law would therefore amount to giving platforms even more power, which they do not want. Suddenly, another criticism: these platforms risk erasing all kinds of content with great fanfare to avoid getting into trouble. This is what happened in Germany, where a similar law was passed in 2018. Associations are crying out for censorship. Note however one last provision: abusive reports will be punishable by one year imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros.

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