Facebook to provide French courts data on hate speech suspects

In a world first, France is set to emerge as a clear frontrunner in the quest to regulate online hate speech and fake news.

In a significant development that marks changes in Facebook’s behavior, the social media giant has agreed to hand over the identification data of French users suspected of hate speech on its platform to judges, said French minister for digital affairs Cedric O.

The decision to do so follows successive meetings between Zuckerberg and French President Emmanuel Macron.

On the global stage, Macro is taking a leading role in regulating hate speech and the spreading of fake news 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 when they have formally demanded it.

“This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally,” said O in an interview. “It’s really very important, they’re only doing it for France.”

O, who said he had been in close contact with Clegg over the last few days on the issue, said Facebook’s decision was the result of an ongoing conversation between the internet giant and the French administration.

Facebook declined to comment.

“It is a strong signal in terms of regulation,” said Sonia Cisse, a counsel at law firm Linklaters; she went on to add, this is 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”, said Cisse.

Incidentally, the French 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.

Significantly, O also signaled his openness to seeing French startups being snapped up by larger U.S. companies, in a spite of recent measures taken by Macron’s government to bolster anti-takeover rules to protect the country’s strategic companies.

“My only goal is to spur the creation of a lot of companies,” he said. “I have no problem with the fact that some of them are bought by U.S. companies, as long as they don’t have critical technology.”

On calls to break up the tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc, O said “We cannot impose very tough obligations on Western companies and dismantle them because they are very big, and not do the same thing with Chinese companies that enter the Western market,” referring to Chinese groups such as Alibaba and Tencent.

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