Last updated on 28th July 2019
Six weeks ago, the deputy from Macron’s party “En Marche!” Laetitia Avia tabled a draft law “against hate on the Internet”. Its flagship measure is to require major platforms to delete in 24 hours the “hateful” and “manifestly” unlawful remarks brought to their attention by the public or the police, otherwise they will face a fine of 4% of their turnover.
The goal is purely and simply to replace public justice with Facebook, Google, and Twitter, leaving them alone to be masters of what may or may not be said on the Internet. This was exactly the approach taken in the anti-terrorist regulation recently adopted at the first reading in the European Parliament.
Before leaving his position as the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Mounir Mahjoubi was already acting alongside Marlene Schiappa – this alliance of the state in the arms of Facebook, presented as the hero of the Internet whose wisdom we should all obviously obey! His successor, Cédric O, clearly has nothing more to say about the treason carried out by this “anti-hate” law. All members of Parliament also distinguished themselves by their guilty silence.
For its part, the Ministry of Justice, completely humiliated and put aside in this great project, has just launched its swan song. In a circular issued last April, it called for greater use of the courts to combat hate online, denouncing “abusive use” of “provisions to engage the responsibility of Internet players”. Indeed, while the government proposes to bypass the judge to gain “effectiveness”, this circular notes that the public prosecutor’s office has far too little understanding of justice in these cases.
So why entrust the mission of justice to Facebook and Google, giving them as much legitimacy and power, even as they constantly violate the law, lie, and destroy our digital ecosystem? The analysis of the anti-terrorism regulation, which is based on the same political will, gives a first clue: the European notion of “terrorism” is so vague that this regulation would push Facebook and Google to largely censor the demands of social movements (in the case of the Yellow Vests, their online comments may fall under “anti-terrorist” censorship).
When the police ask the giants to defend Macron
Another event, this time concerning “hate”, is even more enlightening: at the beginning of the year, our friends from “NextInpact“ revealed that the French police had reported to Google a caricature portraying Emmanuel Macron and his government in the guise of the dictator Pinochet and his relatives. We made a CADA request to the police in order to understand the reasons for this report and have just received a response.
On January 13th 2019, at around 9 pm, an anonymous person reported this caricature and the message accompanying it to the police via its platform PHAROS, in the category “inciting racial hatred or provoking discrimination against people because of their origin, gender, sexual orientation, or their disability”. In response, in less than 24 hours (as indicated on the Lumen website), the police reported this image to Google, recording their report in the category “xenophobic or discriminatory insults and slander” (see the “report card” below).
How to explain such zeal of the police for such a trivial caricature, even though at the end of 2018 its services included less than 30 officers to receive 400-500 reports per day? How to explain the criminal categories upheld here – insults and xenophobic or discriminatory defamation – when it was only a critical caricature of the President and his government? Significantly, the police tell us that they did not take this cartoon that it described as an offence to court: it left the censorship at the free discretion of Google.
At the time, Google had not censored the image (it was published on Google+, which closed down soon after). However, with this new “anti-hate” law, which specifically targets the type of offence in this case, Google or Facebook will have to censor in 24 hours the “obviously” illegal content that will be reported to them, or face a penalty up to 4% of their turnover. Under these conditions, will they really be able to refuse to censor the contents reported by the police?
Independent justice, although sometimes an accomplice, is generally better equipped to withstand government pressure. It must be the only one able to operate public censorship. Any alternative would be the complete renunciation of the separation of powers and any democratic principle. On the other hand, the independence of Google and Facebook is zero: the Facebook president, after having explained building the regulation of the Internet hand in hand with Emmanuel Macron, will be received again tomorrow [this article was written on May 9th, whilst the meeting happened on May 10th – ed] like a head of State at the Elysée.
Any political actor, whether from the majority or the opposition, who does not immediately and frontally oppose this privatisation of justice will be held responsible and denounced as such.
Fighting this law will heavily occupy La Quadrature du Net for the coming months, and we have many other issues to address, such as the promotion of automated censorship, the role of the CSA, or administrative censorship. Yet our annual budget is only 70% funded today, so by the way, you can donate to help us continue!