French MPs have passed a landmark law to fight online hate speech which will oblige social media networks to remove offending content within 24 hours and create a new button to enable users to flag abuse.
Members of the lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday 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 by not removing “obviously hateful” content risk fines of up to $1.4m.
Search engines such as Google will also have to delete such content within 24 hours. The upper-house senate will now examine the legislation after the summer holidays and could suggest amendments.
Tech giants including Facebook and YouTube announced crackdowns on hateful and violent content in recent months.
But 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 live 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,” Laetitia Avia, an MP who drafted the bill, said. She added that online hate speech was “a public health issue” which “the vast majority of French people have seen or experienced”.
Avia said last week she suffers so many racist insults on Twitter that she once thought an abuse-free day was due to a technical problem.
But critics say the law places too much power in the platforms’ hands by making them arbiters of online speech, and may lead them to withdraw content in case of doubt, instead of risk a fine.
“You’re entrusting censorship to Google, Facebook, Twitter … this could lead to a private censorship… worse still: a technological censorship,” the deputy of France Insubmissa Francois Ruffin said during the debate, according to a report by El Pais.
Facebook has also 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 content 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.