In May, France called for increasing government oversight over Facebook. Now Facebook has agreed to hand over to French judges the identification data of French users suspected of hate speech on its platform, according to France’s Secretary of State for the Digital Sector, Cédric O.
Previously, according to a Reuters report, “Facebook had refrained from handing over identification data of people suspected of hate speech because it was not compelled to do so under U.S.-French legal conventions and because it was worried countries without an independent judiciary could abuse it”. Until now, Reuters noted, Facebook had only cooperated with the French judiciary on matters related to terrorist attacks and violent acts by transferring the IP addresses and other identification data of suspected individuals to French judges who formally demanded it.
Now, however, “hate speech” — as speech that fails to comply with current political orthodoxy is conveniently labelled — appears to have become comparable to terrorism and violent crime. How autocratic, yet Cédric O apparently loves it: “This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally”.
It is highly probable that other countries will want to have a similar agreement with Facebook; it also appears likely that Facebook would comply. In May, for instance, as France was debating legislation that would give a new “independent regulator” the power to fine tech companies up to 4% of their global revenue if they do not do enough to remove “hateful content” from their network, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented:
“I am hopeful that it [the French proposal] can become a model that can be used across the EU”.
France is the first and so far only country to have entered into such an agreement with Facebook.
The new agreement could signal the de-facto end of free speech on Facebook for French citizens. Self-censorship in Europe is already widespread: a recent survey in Germany showed that two thirds of Germans are “very careful” about what topics they discuss in public — Islam and migrants being the most taboo.