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France to 'embed' regulators at Facebook to tackle online hate speech

Macron and Zuckerberg during a meeting in Paris on May 23, 2018.
Macron and Zuckerberg during a meeting in Paris on May 23, 2018. Copyright Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
Copyright Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
By Alice Tidey & Reuters
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The French president described the pilot programme — a world first — as "an experiment, but a very important first step."


The French government is to "embed" a team of regulators inside Facebook to work out how best to tackle online hate speech, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday.

The new pilot programme, which will see Facebook "host a delegation of French regulators" for six months in order to come up with a set of "concrete, tailored proposals to fight hate speech," was announced by Macron at the opening ceremony of the annual Internet Goverance Forum, held in Paris on Monday.

The programme

"It's a first," Macron said in describing the programme. "It's an experiment, but a very important first step in my view," he added.

The move follows a meeting with Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg in May, when Macron invited the CEOs of some of the biggest tech firms to Paris, telling them they should work for the common good.

The trial project is an example of what Macron has called "smart regulation" — something he wants to extend to other tech leaders such as Google, Apple and Amazon.

The French officials will travel to Facebook's European headquarters in Dublin in January and the global base in Menlo Park, California if necessary, the company said.

The aim is for them to see how Facebook detects potential hateful content, analyses it and eventually deletes it from its platform. It is unclear, however, whether they will have access to highly-sensitive material such as Facebook's algorithms or codes to remove hate speech.

"The best way to ensure that any regulation is smart and works for people is by governments, regulators and businesses working together to learn from each other and explore ideas," Nick Clegg, Facebook's head of global affairs, said in a statement.

European cyberspace?

The French leader, who criticised the growing hegemony of "Californian cyberspace and Chinese cyberspace," championed a more European approach, which he said would be based on the continent's ideals and values and called for better regulation.

The European Union has been trying to reign in internet giants by taking a global lead on regulation.

The General Data Protection Regulation, for instance, which aimed to enshrine personal data protection as a "fundamental right", was widely adopted worldwide after its launch in the EU in May.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have also all been fined by the European Commission in the last decade for various offences ranging from tax evasion to operating as a cartel and misleading officials.

But when it comes to hate speech, the different member states have come up with varying approaches.

Since January, Germany has required sites to remove banned content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €50 million.

In France, a parliamentary report, released in late September, proposed a similar law but called for it to go a bit further by requiring online platforms to remove hateful content before it's flagged by users. It also called for fines to be massively increased and for judges to be granted the right to shut down sites deemed overtly racist or xenophobic.

A French official told Reuters that the pilot programme shows that tech companies "now have a choice between something that is smart but intrusive and regulation that is wicked and plain stupid."

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