In one press conference at the Élysée, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his attention to online regulations, and more particularly toxic content. He called for more international cooperation as the Group of Seven (G7) summit is held later this week in the UK.
“The third major subject which could benefit from effective multilateralism and which we will be addressing at this G7 summit is online regulation,” Macron said. “This subject, and I’m sure we’ll talk about it again, is essential for our democracies.
Macron also took the opportunity to summarize France’s efforts on this front. “In the summer of 2017, we launched an initiative to tackle terrorist content online with then Prime Minister Theresa May. In the beginning, and as crazy as it sounds today, we mostly failed. Because of free speech, people told us to mind our own business more or less. “
In 2019, there was a horrific shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. And you can find multiple copies of the filming videos on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Macron invited New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, several G7 digital ministers and tech companies to Paris.
They all signed a non-binding pledge called Christchurch Call. Essentially, tech companies that operate social platforms have agreed to step up their efforts to block toxic content – and terrorist content in particular.
Facebook, Twitter, Google (and YouTube), Microsoft, Amazon and other technology companies have signed the pledge. 17 countries and the European Commission also supported the Christchurch appeal. There was one notable exception: the United States did not sign it.
“This strategy has yielded concrete results because all the online platforms that have signed on to it have followed it,” Macron said. “Proof of this is what happened in France last fall when we faced terrorist attacks.” In October 2020, French college professor Samuel Paty was kill and beheaded by a terrorist.
“The platforms flagged the content and removed the content within an hour,” he added.
Over time, more and more countries and online platforms ad their support for the Christchurch appeal. In May, President Joe Biden joined the international auction against toxic content. “Considering the number of companies incorporated in the United States, this is a major milestone and I welcome it,” Macron said today.
But what happens after the Christchurch call? First, Macron wants to convince more countries to support the call – China and Russia are not among the supporters, for example.
“The second thing is that we have to move forward to create a framework for all kinds of hate speech online, racist speech, anti-Semitic speech and anything related to online harassment,” Macron said.
He then briefly mentioned the French regulations in this area. Last year, France’s regulations on hate speech on online platforms were widely ruled unconstitutional by the French Constitutional Council, the highest authority responsible for deciding whether a new law complies with the constitution.
The list of hate speech was long and broad while the potential fines were very high. The Constitutional Council feared that online platforms would censor content a little too quickly.
But that doesn’t seem to stop Macron from supporting new online content regulations at European and G7 levels.
“This is the only way to build an effective framework that we can bring to the G20 summit that can help us tackle wild behavior in online interactions – and therefore wild behavior in our new world order,” said Macron said, using the behavior metaphor (wildly). This term was first popularized by far-right political figures.
If world leaders fail to find common ground in online regulation, he said, it will lead to fragmentation of the Internet. Some countries may choose to block several online services, for example.
And yet recent events have shown us that this ship has already sailed. The Nigerian government suspended Twitter operations in the country just days ago. It’s easy to agree to block terrorist content, but it quickly becomes tedious when you want to moderate other content.