By Chris Menahan
Facebook is going to work in concert with the government of France to rat out its own users so they can be prosecuted for “hate speech.”
The move comes just three months after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged a “privacy-focused” overhaul of the social network.
In a world first, Facebook has agreed to hand over the identification data of French users suspected of hate speech on its platform to judges, France’s minister for digital affairs Cedric O said on Tuesday.
O, whose father is South Korean, is one of French President Emmanuel Macron‘s earliest followers, and has been influential in shaping the president’s thinking on Big Tech as an advisor at the Elysee palace in the first two years of Macron’s presidency.
The decision by the world’s biggest social media network comes after successive meetings between Zuckerberg and Macron, who wants to take a leading role globally on the regulation of hate speech and the spread of false information online.
So far, Facebook has cooperated with French justice 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.
All French citizens are to be treated as terrorists now if they hold the wrong opinions.
Following a meeting between Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, and O last week, the social media company has extended this cooperation to hate speech.
“This is huge news, it means that the judicial process will be able to run normally,” O told Reuters in an interview. “It’s really very important, they’re only doing it for France.”
O, who said he had been in close contact with Clegg over the last few days on the issue, said Facebook’s decision was the result of an ongoing conversation between the internet giant and the French administration.
Since his nomination as minister in March, O has made the fight against hate speech online a key priority through regular contacts with Facebook’s top executives, including founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Buzzfeed reported in March that Macron had begun working with Facebook to “solve” it’s “deep-rooted anti-Semitism problem.”
France — home to the world’s third-largest Jewish population — is in the middle of what Macron has described as being the worst period of anti-Semitism since World War II, and much of it is playing out online.
Calling for a “collegial approach” to regulation last November, Macron announced what he called an “unprecedented field experiment” with Zuckerberg to take French officials behind the scenes of content moderation process. After reviewing the tools Facebook uses to evaluate and take down offensive and violent content, Macron said, policymakers would work with Facebook to “jointly develop specific and concrete proposals to fight offensive and hate content.”
[…] Just after Macron announced his partnership with Zuckerberg last November, the Yellow Vest protests exploded onto streets across France. The movement tapped into deep-seated anger at economic stagnation among the French middle class, but it transformed into a political force through Facebook groups that were also hotbeds of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitic abuse, and anti-vax misinformation.
[…] The Yellow Vest movement helped unleashed a new wave of anti-Semitic abuse. President Macron was called a “whore of the Jews” by commenters who seized on his work for the Rothschild Bank. People in the Yellow Vest groups also shared videos by Dieudonné, a comedian who has been convicted of many crimes over the past 15 years, including advocating terrorism and denying the Holocaust, yet still has a page on Facebook. Dieudonné has become close to figures around France’s historic far-right party, the National Front — recently renamed the National Rally — many of whose supporters joined the Yellow Vest protests.
With the yellow-vest protests hitting week 32 and the National Front beating Macron’s party in the recent EU elections, you can be sure this new law will quickly be put to use.