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France delays signing of Internet pledge amid U.S. pressure

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By Reuters
France delays signing of Internet pledge amid U.S. pressure
FILE PHOTO: People walk past the Google headquarters in the Kings Cross area in London, Britain, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay   -   Copyright  Hannah McKay(Reuters)

BIARRITZ, France (Reuters) – France delayed the planned signing of a pledge by Internet platforms to fight hate speech online amid pressure from the United States, a French minister said, adding that he was still hopeful the U.S. will join the initiative.

France, which is hosting the G7 summit in Biarritz, was initially hoping to make social media giants sign a so-called “Charter for an Open, Free, and Safe Internet” on Friday, according to the official programme.

“The Charter will be signed by major digital stakeholders in Paris on 23 August, before being presented to the G7 States in Biarritz,” the programme read.

But no ceremony took place on Friday and Europe 1 radio said U.S. President Donald Trump had pressured the chief executives of these social networks from signing the pledge publicly.

France’s junior minister for the digital industry told reporters the signing was only delayed and would eventually take place on Monday.

“The initial idea was to make the platforms come to Biarritz and until now, the United States were against the signature of this pledge,” Cedric O said.

“Diplomatically, it was sensitive to make US platforms come to Biarritz and sign something while the American president wasn’t there,” he said.

Google, Facebook and Snapchat were among the platforms due to sign the charter, according to Cedric O.

The charter aims to create a collective movement guaranteeing transparency and cooperation for the safe and positive use of the Internet, the French G7 presidency said.

It builds on the Christchurch call by widening the scope of commitments made by platforms, particularly in terms of taking down content, moderating, ensuring transparency and supporting victims.

“There’s no doubt on the fact that the social networks will sign the pledge,” Cedric O said.

“The platforms played ball and made a commitment on the pledge, all the countries taking part too, the remaining question today is whether the US will join us, which would be a great success,” he added.

“We’re discussing it with them and are hopeful they can be on board this initiative, and they can sign the pledge on Monday.”

(Reporting by Marine Pennetier and Michel Rose; Editing by Leigh Thomas)