Facebook will hand over data of hate speech suspects to French courts

The deal between the tech giant and the French government is believed to be a world first

Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace after the "Tech for Good" summit, in Paris, France, May 23, 2018.  Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters
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Facebook has made a deal with France’s government designed to combat hate speech on its platform, which will see the social media giant hand over identification data of hate crime suspects to French courts.

The decision – believed to be a world first – comes after France’s President Emmanuel Macron had several meetings with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Before the technology company only gave over identification data of suspects such as IP addresses on matters related to terrorism or violent acts.

“This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally,” France’s minister for digital affairs Cedric O told Reuters.

“It’s really very important, they’re only doing it for France.”

Former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is now Facebook’s head of global affairs, met with Mr O last week to discuss the issue.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has been criticised by a number of countries across the globe for failing to remove hate speech from its platforms quickly enough.

Mr Clegg, who joined Facebook in 2018, said in a speech earlier this week that the firm needed more help from governments to police harmful content on its site.

The social media company had previously refrained from handing over identification data from users accused of creating criminal hate speech because they were not required to under US-French law. The company was also reportedly concerned countries without an independent judiciary would abuse the power, according to Reuters.

Facebook told The National that they would consider requests for basic information from the French law enforcement in hate speech cases.

"However, as we do with all court orders for information, even in the US, we will scrutinise every order we receive and push back if it is overly broad, inconsistent with human rights, or legally defective," a spokesperson said.

It was unclear whether the deal with French authorities would be extended to other Facebook-owned platforms.

Facebook defines hate speech “as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disease or disability”.

In its Community Standards page, it said it does not allow hate speech because it creates “an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence”.

France’s parliament is currently mulling passing legislation which would see social media companies fined up to four per cent of their global revenue if they do not take adequate steps to remove hateful content from their platforms.

In Germany a similar law was passed in January 2018, which requires big social media networks to remove “obviously illegal” material within 24 hours of them being notified or face fines of up to 50 million euros.