France’s parliament approves controversial bill that would empower social media sites in combatting “hate speech.”

May 16, 2020

French lawmakers have recently voted to adopt a controversial bill that would ban “hate speech” on social media, a move that free speech advocates oppose.

The bill, which was first submitted to parliament last year, would effectively force websites and search engines to remove prohibited content within 24 hours beginning July 1.

Companies that fail to comply could be subject to fines of up $1.35 million USD.

Right-wing parties fiercely objected the bill over concerns it would conflict with freedom of expression rights, but the majority of France’s lower house National Assembly voted in favor, by a show of hands.  

Although the objective of the new law is to target web pages that contain pictures, videos and texts that incite hatred or violence, or that are insulting to races or religions, critics argue the proposal will give tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon too much authority to suppress free speech.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, an advocacy group said it was concerned the legislation “could lead to excessive take downs of content as companies, especially startups, would err on the side of caution.”

The European Commission demanded a clearer definition of what type of content would be criminalized, which prompted members of the National Assembly to amend the bill several times.

Online hate speech laws have been heavily endorsed by the European Union in recent years, and particularly by countries like Germany, although such laws are not exclusive to Europe.

In the Middle East, countries like Saudi Arabia use similar laws to suppress free speech, and even in Africa, countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria use hate speech laws to silence and punish opposing views.