The Senate voted, on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, December 18, the bill The Republic on the march to fight hate on the Internet after having removed – in the name of freedom of expression – the heart: the obligation for platforms and search engines to remove content within 24 hours “Manifestly” unlawful.
The text, which has raised many reservations, including the National Digital Council, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights, or the Quadrature du Net – which defends individual freedoms in the digital world -, had was widely approved this summer by the National Assembly at first reading.
Deputies and senators will now try to agree on a common text. In the event of failure, a new reading will be organized in each of the two chambers, the National Assembly having the final say.
“Few of the texts respond to such an urgent need and such a strong demand from our fellow citizens”, pleaded the secretary of state for digital, Cédric O. “All of us here share the purpose of this text, to fight hate online”, assured for his part the rapporteur of the Senate's law commission, Christophe-André Frassa (Les Républicains).
A risk of “over-censorship”
But the Senate, dominated by the right-wing opposition, weighed freedom of expression, pointing to a risk of “Surcensure”, and European law. He thus removed the new offense of “Non-withdrawal” content reported as manifestly illegal (provocation to terrorism, incitement to hatred, violence, discrimination, insults of a racist, homophobic or religious nature, etc.). The text adopted by the deputies provided that platforms and search engines would have the obligation to remove the content “manifestly” illicit within 24 hours, under penalty of being fined up to 1.25 million euros .
“A wrong answer” which would amount to “Privatize censorship, lambasted the leader of the Republicans, Bruno Retailleau. To fight against an evil, it achieves a common good which is dear to us, freedom of expression. ” No question of entrusting to platforms “The police of thought and expression”, protested Catherine Morin-Desailly (centrist), rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture.
“Fighting the spread of hate on the Internet is fundamental, but not at the cost of an attack on freedom of expression”, said Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie (PS), who nevertheless defended, without success, an alternative withdrawal device “Provisionally”.
Reinforced platform regulation
In the end, the Senate adopted a PS amendment aiming only to include in the law the duration of 24 hours fixed as ” goal “ platforms for the removal of manifestly illegal content. Also adopted was an amendment by Claude Malhuret (Independent) to make it mandatory, “For the needs of justice”, the preservation by the hosts of the contents made inaccessible. Mr. Malhuret was one of the few senators to defend the initial measure, stressing that “Freedom of expression is not about spreading hate”.
The Senate on the other hand approved, while specifying it, the reinforcement of the regulation of the platforms, under the supervision of the Superior council of audio-visual. Thus the text provides for a series of new constraints: transparency on the means implemented and the results obtained, enhanced cooperation, in particular with the justice system, etc.
Senators have completed the text for “Fight more effectively against the virality of hate content” and “Encourage interoperability” between the platforms. The idea is to allow victims “To take refuge” on another social network, in the event of hateful attacks, while keeping their personal data. For Pierre Ouzoulias (CRCE with a communist majority), this text will only be“A wooden sword in the water”.
In 2018, out of the 160,000 or so reports sent to the Pharos platform for reporting illegal content online, almost 14,000 were due to online hatred or discrimination.