French Government Police 'Cyber Hate' - Revolution on the Cards?

There is a palpable historical irony pulsating within the home of western revolution. The elites have doubled down on establishing legislative apparatus’ in their own interest, as the needs bureaucrats come first and citizens second. Under the directive of President Macron, the French government is pushing through radical new social media restrictions to fight ‘cyber-hate’ with severe punitive repercussions for social media companies for failing to properly police it. On Tuesday, lower house French MP’s voted overwhelming in favour of the legislation with a result of 434 to 33. The bill is similar to a piece of German legislation passed last year. This is by no means an idea native to France or Germany, as the United Nations issued ‘General Recommendation no. 35 on combating racist hate speech in 2012.’

As is always the case in attempts to police ‘hate speech,’ the vagueness of the term presents substantial enforcement difficulties. The definition provided as the benchmark that Facebook and its kin must employ is the following “any content that is manifestly an incitement to hatred or a discriminatory insult on grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or disability.” Whilst this may sound reasonable to the common person, what constitutes a manifest incitement or an insult as opposed to genuine criticism is incredibly subjective.

Among the highlights of the proposal is the implementation of a ‘single alert button’ allowring users to report ‘cyber-hate.’ I can’t imagine how this feature might be used for political purposes rather than engage in constructive arguments surrounding contentious social issues. On this alone the legislation should be renamed the ‘John Stuart Mill Proposal.’ As if this wasn’t conducive enough to constructive conversation, the French Government would like to slap social media companies with fines of up to 4% of Annual turnover if they fail to adhere to the guidelines suggested. The guidelines mandate a 24 hours removal period for ‘hateful’ posts, which apparently provides ample time for the tech giants to limit the ‘virality’ of the post.

Of major concern to anyone with a scintilla of scepticism is the means by which the social media giants must necessarily use to avoid punitive damages. It is almost certain that the employment of algorithms, which are by nature devoid of discretion, are the only means of compliance. Several well documented cases of algorithmic shadow banning should be enough to concern anyone who doesn’t always toe the establishment media line. Time to shut up for anyone who uses French social media for criticisms of identity politics.

Unsurprisingly, Macron has delegated the drafting and selling of the bill to two ‘racial minority’ figures within his parliament, both of whom have been so deeply affected by online abuse, that re defining what constitutes acceptable language in the context of one of the most deeply unpopular western governments is the only way out. Laetitia Avia (Pictured), who was elected in 2017 and is of Togolese descent said ‘If I have made this draft law proposal, it is because I have myself encountered this phenomenon; a wave of racist messages that I have received on social media.’ Avia of course cites the timeless adage, the ‘general interest’ as the supreme validation for tyrannical legislation. One only has to look at the 20th century to realise how many times the ‘general interest’ was used to validate government over reach.

The legislators were kind enough to reminded critics “freedom of expression is not absolute and total,” and “of course we’re very fond of freedom of expression, and our goal is not to undermine it.” They are absolutely right. How could anyone with any brains interpret obvious legislative moves to restrict speech online as attempts to restrict free speech online?

It would be fascinating of course to see if MP’s such as Laetitia are liable to their own rules and MP’s become subject to the whims of algorithms and political activists.

Forcing social media companies to act as online policeman and providing the mechanisms for users to dob in one another will only enhance what is already a toxic and stymied political discourse.

The legislation also necessarily forces big tech companies to move further towards media outlets compared to a ‘town square’ scenario, whereby they selectively judge the content released. Should they then be liable to defamation, libel and the rest of it by virtue of the fact they are actively editing and making judgement calls as to who is allowed to post? This is of course part of a much broader discussion but it is worth considering. The French yellow vest alliance has demonstrated that the stereotypical French spirit is alive and kicking, so if Macron wants to kick a hornets nest this is one way to do it.

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