Unsurprisingly and at the end of a long and chaotic course, the Parliament definitively adopted, Wednesday, May 13, via a final vote of the National Assembly, the bill of law of the deputy Laetitia Avia (The Republic on the move) against hate online.
This text provides, from July, an obligation for platforms and search engines to remove content within twenty-four hours “Obviously” reported to them, on pain of fines of up to 1.25 million euros. This includes, in particular, incitement to hatred, violence, insults of a racist or religious nature.
The judge absent from the system
This text has been widely criticized, both by deputies, from the right and from the left, as well as by bodies such as the National Digital Council, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights and associations such as La Quadrature du Net. All accuse this text of reducing freedom of expression by entrusting private actors with important powers in the matter. Opponents of the text fear in particular that, out of fear of fines and in the absence of significant sanctions for “over-censorship”, social networks will be encouraged to delete content that is however legal. The relative absence of the judge guaranteeing individual freedoms in the system also caused controversy.
Conversely, Laetitia Avia and Cédric O, the Secretary of State for Digital, believe that this text has ” achieved “ the balance between freedom of expression and “Efficiency” and will be able to end “To impunity” who would reign online about hateful content. The majority as well as the UDI-Agir deputies have for the most part voted in favor of this “Accountability bill” platforms, and the socialists abstained. Worried about freedom of expression, right-wing parliamentarians, Liberties and Territories, Insubordinate France and the National Rally opposed it, in a stormy atmosphere.
The text also provides for a series of new constraints for the platforms: transparency on the means and results obtained, enhanced cooperation, in particular with the justice system, increased attention to minors. The whole will be controlled by the Superior council of audio-visual.
Beyond the substance, the final reading of the text in the Assembly was the subject of two new controversies. The first was related to the fact that this text was the first law with no direct link to the pandemic to be examined in the National Assembly, and this when the deputies could not yet fully access the Hemicycle. The communists thus boycotted the session, denouncing a “Unacceptable functioning” of the National Assembly.
The vote also took place the day after publication, in Mediapart, from an article implicating Laetitia Avia herself for “Repeated humiliations” and “Words with a sexist, homophobic and racist connotation” meet five former parliamentary staff. The elected representative of Paris, who denounces “False allegations”, said she would file a defamation complaint.
The Constitutional Council could be seized by the right, in particular senatorial, which tried unsuccessfully to reshape the text as it pleases in an attempt to limit its effects in terms of freedom of expression.
France wants to be a driving force in Europe
The European Commission has for its part also expressed its reservations on this text, which flouts the European principle of non-liability of hosts on content that is posted by their users. This regime will be the subject of new discussions at European level, and France is counting on this text to weigh in. With this “Avia law”, she joined in particular Germany, which adopted a similar text.
France is even zealous over a draft regulation concerning terrorist content. It did not wait for the outcome of the debate on a draft European regulation laying down the obligation within the hour to remove terrorist content upon notification by the authorities. This provision, which allows the deletion of content on simple notification from the police, was added to the national text as it progressed through parliament.
As for social networks, we have beenware of frontal opposition to the text, which they claim to share the objective of. Behind the scenes, however, they do not necessarily look favorably on the increase in their obligations, even if the provisions of the law ratify the model of moderation of content implemented by some, in particular Facebook.