France’s supreme ruling body, the Constitutional Council, said on Thursday it had rejected most of a draft law that would force social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to remove any hate content within 24 hours, Reuters reported. The Constitutional Council’s ruling said the law’s excessive interference with freedom of expression was a setback for President Emmanuel Macron. He has vowed to make France a leader in curbing the spread of illegal content and disinformation on the most common platforms.
The bill was approved by France’s lower house of parliament last July, but still needs to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council. According to the draft law, social media groups could face fines of up to 4 per cent of their global income if they fail to remove “obviously illegal” content related to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability within a day.
Some freedom of expression advocacy groups have argued that the bill could pave the way for national censorship because it does not explicitly define illegal content. In its ruling, the French Constitutional Council stated: ” (These measures) undermine the exercise of freedom of expression and communication in an unnecessary, inappropriate and disproportionate manner. It also cites the 1789 Declaration on Human and Civil Rights, which is the preamble to the Constitution.
The Constitutional Council noted that the current draft law provided that the executive branch would play a major role in determining illegal content without any interference from judges. It said this could prompt social media companies to remove more online content for fear of sanctions. In addition, the 24-hour time window is “particularly short”.
The Constitutional Council also rejected another provision of the draft law, under which any content deemed to be child pornography or terrorist must be deleted within an hour.
Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.