Paris (CNSNews.com) – France has become the first country to secure Facebook’s agreement to provide its courts with the IP addresses of individuals accused of spreading hate on its platform.
Cedric O, the French minister responsible for the digital sector, announced the move in an interview with the FranceInfo television channel, saying France was the first country to have such an agreement, but that it may be extended to others in Europe.
In a bid to limit hate content online, Facebook will transmit identifying data to the French justice system, which will be able to sue suspects.
“The government wants to stop cyber hate,” O said. “To do this, we must first ensure that the justice system can punish the perpetrators of illegal behavior. And to punish them, it is necessary to be able to identify them, and link hate or racist comments to an IP address.”
In France, a person claiming to be a victim of cyber hate can file a complaint with police, who refer the matter to a prosecutor’s office for a decision on whether the content constitutes hateful or racist speech. If the content appeared on a Facebook pages, the prosecutor may now ask the social media giant to provide the author’s IP address.
Facebook has declined to comment.
“Social media platforms have a big responsibility for their content and for a long time I have been in favor of lifting the anonymity of authors,” Alexandre Lazarègue, a lawyer specializing in new technology issues, said by phone.
Up to now platforms have been saying that they cannot control the content on their forums, but now “we are going to oblige them to be responsible for their forums,” he said.
Lazarègue noted that the French parliament is currently discussing legislation that would make Internet platforms responsible for content. He said that may have prompted Facebook to show goodwill in the matter.
Parliament will also soon discuss a law on cyber hate which, if enacted, will require platforms to remove hate speech posted on the web within 24 hours. A reporting button will also be required for platforms, under the proposal.
Anthony Bem, a lawyer dealing in Internet-related and defamation litigation, said while it was good that an agreement has been reached between a government and a private company, it remained an informal undertaking, with “no sanctions planned in case Facebook does not comply.”
He also speculated that Facebook may have taken the step as a result of the pending legislation in France.
“If all social media do the same, it might work,” said Bem, characterizing the Facebook agreement as a good first step.
In the interview, O said that up to now, Facebook has only provided IP addresses to authorities in terrorism and child pornography cases, but has now agreed to broaden its cooperation to the field of hate speech, as “a way to reduce cyber hate.”
He said the agreement came after several meetings between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and President Emmanuel Macron, including one last month.
After that meeting, Zuckerberg told reporters at Facebook’s France headquarters he was optimistic about the proposed French legislation.
“I am confident that it can become a model used in the European Union,” he said.