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French lower parliament passes online hate speech law

File photo of French President Emmanuel Macron. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Paris, France Jul 09, 2019, 10.13 PM (IST)

French MPs on Tuesday passed a landmark law to fight online hate speech which will oblige social media networks to remove offending content in 24 hours and create a new button to enable users to flag abuse.

Members of the lower house of parliament voted by 434 in favour to 33 against to adopt the law, which is modelled on German legislation that came into force last year. Sixty-nine MPs abstained.

Sites that fail to comply with the law and remove "obviously hateful" content risk fines of up to 1.25 million euros ($1.4 million).

The upper-house Senate will now examine the legislation and could suggest amendments.

A series of tech giants, including Facebook and YouTube, announced crackdowns on hateful and violent content in recent months, spurring calls for tougher regulation.

Governments accused online platforms of not doing enough to stamp out hate speech in a Paris summit in May after a gunman broadcast his attack on two New Zealand mosques lives on Facebook via a head-mounted camera. 

The footage was shared millions of times despite efforts to remove it.

"We must ensure the safety and protection of people online, especially the most vulnerable," said Laetitia Avia, a black MP who drafted the bill. 

She told parliament last week she suffers so many racist insults on Twitter that she once thought an abuse-free day was due to a technical problem.

Critics say the law places too much power in the platforms' hands by making them arbiters of online speech.

Social media giant Facebook has questioned whether the 24-hour window to remove hateful content is realistic, saying many posts require careful analysis and tricky legal assessment.

MPs debated long into the night last week to try to agree on what constitutes "obviously hateful" messages or videos.

They agreed to include condoning crimes against humanity. But amendments seeking to integrate specific references to anti-Zionism and hate against the state of Israel were rejected and did not make the final text.

Story highlights

Members of the lower house of parliament voted by 434 in favour to 33 against to adopt the law, which is modelled on German legislation that came into force last year. Sixty-nine MPs abstained.