France: terrorist content must be reported within hours of social media

The French parliament has passed a law requiring social media companies to remove terrorist content from their platforms. This must be done no later than one hour after public authorities report it.

A total of 355 MEPs voted in favor of the proposal, 150 MEPs opposed and 47 abstained. The law aims to combat hate messages on the internet and strengthen the contribution of major digital operators.

There are two time limits for this in the law. First of all, there is the one hour duration, which only applies to terrorist content and child pornography. In addition, there is a separate requirement to remove content within 24 hours. This concerns the promotion of certain criminal acts, insofar as this can lead to discrimination, hatred or violence. This 24-hour requirement also applies to denial of crimes against humanity, serious insults, provocation or condoning of terrorism and child pornography.

The 24 hour deletion requirement probably applies to reports that can be made by anyone; the one-hour requirement applies only to cases of terrorism and child pornography, and after a public authority reports it.

If, for example, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter does not remove the content from its platforms within the set time limits, sanctions will follow. In those cases, the French Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel will have the power to impose a fine of up to four percent of the annual worldwide turnover.

In addition, the law provides for a number of obligations for social media companies to cooperate with public authorities on transparency and how to process reports. As a big push, the law has increased the fine for not cooperating with a legal authority in combating illegal content. The amount goes from 37,500 to 1,250,000 euros.

La Quadrature du Net, a French organization that champions the digital rights and freedoms of citizens, has criticized the law. The organization believes that the legislator would have done better to tackle the revenue models of the internet giants, Reuters writes. According to La Quadrature du Net, the law is unnecessary and it is unrealistic to think that content can be removed within an hour. “If the website does not censor the content, for example if the complaint was sent over the weekend or at night, the police can force ISPs to block the website anywhere in France,” the organization said.

The French law appears to be anticipating legislation being drafted in the European Union. A regulation is being negotiated here with rules that oblige tech companies to make terrorist content inaccessible within an hour. The European Parliament voted in favor of this a year ago. This draft regulation was criticized last year, including from web founder Tim Berners-Lee. Critics argued that the regulation limits the basic rights of European internet users and undermines innovation on the internet, and that the term ‘terrorist content’ is worded too broadly.