France is cracking down on hate speech and other harmful content.


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France followed in Germany’s footsteps by passing a law Wednesday to slap huge fines on social media companies that  don’t remove illegal or harmful content within an hour of it going live.

The strict new rules, which will go into effect July 1, mean that companies must remove the most problematic content — child abuse and terrorism-related content — within 60 minutes. For hate speech and other harmful content, the companies will get 24 hours to pull down the content.

Failing to comply with the laws can lead to fines of up 1.25 million euros ($1.36M), or up to 4% of their global revenue for serious, repeat offenders.

“We can no longer afford to rely on the goodwill of platforms and their voluntary promises,” said Cédric O, France’s junior minister for digital affairs, according to The Wall Street Journal

The spread of harmful online content is a global problem affecting social platforms of all sizes, but the focus tends to fall on the largest companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google. For these companies, tackling illegal content is an ongoing battle, but some European countries have introduced their own laws and penalties to try to force them to speed up the removal.

Audrey Herblin-Stoop, Twitter’s head of public policy for France, said the company has worked closely with the French government as part of its “shared commitment” to making the internet a safer place. “Improving the health of the public conversation has been our number one priority for several years, and we are committed to protecting an open Internet and freedom of expression, and exploring opportunities to address abuse and misleading information at scale,” Herblin-Stoop said in a statement.

A Facebook spokesman said that fighting online hate had been a top priority for the company for many years. “We have clear rules against it and have invested in people and technology to better identify and remove it,” he said. “Regulation has a role to play in helping combat this type of content. We will work closely with the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel and other stakeholders on the implementation of this law.” The CSA regulates electronic media in France.

Representatives for Google didn’t immediately respond to request for comment regarding YouTube.

Some of the strictest rules governing online harm can be found in Germany. In 2017, the German government introduced a law requiring social media companies to remove harmful content within 24 hours or face fines of up to 50 million euros. In 2019, the country fined Facebook $2.3M for violating its rules. Earlier this year, the German government approved a bill requiring the companies to report all illegal hate speech to the police.

France has now followed suit, with a focus on prioritizing the removal of the most harmful content first. The UK government is working toward passing its own online harm bill later this year.

More broadly, the European Union has avoided legislating on the issue by asking companies to sign of code of conduct to work on speeding up their response to tackling hate speech, with regular reviews to track their progress.

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