Hate Speech in France and solutions by Authorities and Community

Hate Speech in France and solutions by Authorities and Community

In recent years, with the explosion of social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, we have also witnessed the outbreak of hate speech.

  What is hate speech?

 Up to now, no court or country have provided laws or regulations presenting a clear definition of “hate speech”. In general, this phrase most of the time refers to extremely negative statements that aims at some of the characteristics of the victim, with the purpose of calling for incitement to hatred. More specifically, hate speech is an attack on an individual or group of individuals with the intent of disseminating hate or calling for violence against an individual or group of individuals, for reasons of religion, race, gender, political opinion, etc.


 Obviously, hate speech has the potential to negatively affect the peace of society. In some cases, hate speech is not limited to "speeches". It can cause violence in society, create hatred among communities, and even lead to concrete actions, such as acts of terrorism in Europe and America. Sadly, the more we witness, the faster the spread of hate speech. In particular, in a society that contains tensions up to the point that it is extremely difficult for individuals to find a place for themselves, hate speech becomes even more popular. Therefore, it is quite understandable that in many countries in the world, hate speech is a thorny problem of the government. Thus, the concern is now to find proper solutions to solve this problem.


 First solution: stricter law!


The first solution is to set a clear, specific and rigorous legal framework for speeches on social network sites. Social networking can not be "lawless land." Now, with a daily Facebook user population of 1.3 billion, Twitter is 330 million, and YouTube employs about 1 billion people, managing information and fining cyber-hate speech is especially essential.


 Also, in many developed countries, for example, the United States, the majority of hate speech on social networks - except for incited speeches igniting violence - is considered legal for reasons of the “Freedom of Speech”, according to the US Constitution.


In contrast, France may be considered one of the countries with the most severe laws against hate speech. This difference can be explained by the reason that the country applies the principle of freedom of expression within the framework of the country's general moral values. Individuals' "mental" assaults are considered a "violation" of individual rights, so the law explicitly prohibits hate speech. In France, the law that is applicable to most of these hate speech cases is a long-standing law, from ...1881. This law deals with the freedom of the press and sets the framework for freedom of speech. At the same time, the punishment also applies in the case of slander, humiliation, and stigmatization stigmatize discrimination, incite hatred or incite violence. Some other hate speech acts are covered by French criminal law.


Of course, not every insulting, humiliating statement is sanctioned. It is important to distinguish between illegal and non-illegal. French law distinguishes four different acts such as insults, slander, calling for terrorism, and inciting national hatred. The difference between diffamation and abusive behaviors are the act of slander based on a particular fact, which should be checked for the accuracy of the facts given, while abusive behavior are not based on the facts and does not need this checkout process. “Injury” is an offensive, insulting language targeting individuals who are being abusive, such as name, appearance, gender, religion, race, etc. Violent acts based on gender, religion, or ethnicity will be punished more severely. Violent behavior is only aimed at the individual himself, so it is distinguished from the "denial of goods or services" (dénigrement), which affects the choice of consumers - any violated behavior is also prohibited by French law, but is not clearly defined in Vietnamese law.


In France, for hate speech online, the law of 1881 also applies. So hate speech on social networks will also be punished. When social networks are accessible to everyone (for example, when you go "public" on facebook), the French courts consider this as a "public" place - where Hate speech is severely punished. Conversely, when these statements are posted on a facebook account in the "narrow" state, such as the account holder for only a number of people definitely read (friends), the court will consider this place "private" and punishment for hate speech is also much less severe.


It can be said that social networks - even if there are fundamental differences with the "real" world - are not "lawless regions" in France. In France, there is no shortage of individuals fined for illegally speaking on social networks. Heavy penalties, such as imprisonment with fines, have also been applied. Moreover, French laws punishes individuals for allowing others to make hate speech statements on their facebook page, without any action to remove these statements. In 2013, the Court of Appeal for the City of Nimes upheld the jury's conviction of $ 3,000 in French lawmaker Julien Sanchez (right-wing Front National) for leaving his two friends on his facebook. Speeches discriminate Muslims - considered by the court to be "incitement to stigma, incitement to racial hatred and religion." Of course, his two friends, the author of these statements, were also fined, 4000 euros each. Especially after a number of terrorist attacks broke out in France, some individuals were also severely punished for having advocated terrorism, calling for violence on social networks.


Although such strict law has been applied, it is still not enough. France is still witnessing the rise of hate speech online. For sure, the main reason for the difficulties posed by limiting online hate speech is due to the nature of social networking sites where one can hide his true identity and it is not easy for moderators to figure out the real identity of the offenders. Moreover, according to French law, Facebook, Twitter or Youtube are all service providers (hébergeur), so they are not entirely responsible for the social networking users' comments. Only when the content of the statement is clearly illegal then according to law, the social network site is responsible for removing the content. In fact, social networking providers are not really active and quick in the fight against hate speech. Even now, on social networking sites, there is a "notice of infringement" function that allows viewers to report illegal content to the social network, however, the rate of content removal after the announcement of the infringement is not much and not effective (only about 46% of these comments were deleted by Facebook, the ratio of YouTube is 10% and on Twitter is 1%). It is because of this indifference, many people freely release social networking illegal speeches. For example, after the illegal immigrants' death in Calais, "comments" expressing the obvious joy and hatred of immigrants “blossomed” on Facebook in France to the extent that France 3 Nord-Pas-de-Calais was shocked, "Celebrate on facebook for the death of an immigrant is shameful, inhuman and illegal". The Boulogne Court of First Instance has opened investigations into the hate speech on the social network of the organization Sauvons Calais Immigration, but led to no result because of technical difficulties, and especially because of the lack of cooperation from Facebook. Even French President François Hollande has criticized the social network "tycoons" such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, who are not active in the fight against hate speech.


Is there any solution other than the law?


The matter of hate speech is one of the most prominent issues that has drawn the attention of the press, social organizations and the French government. Various solutions have been launched, and implemented in France to limit hate speech.

There is a very simple solution, as the French newspaper Nord Littoral has decided to post on the Facebook page of the authors of cyberbullying statements and call it "the wall of humiliation" Illegal speech act. Of course, this is not a long-term and effective solution, as it is entirely possible for unreasonable statements to be made with an anonymous account.


Another solution, at a larger and more efficient scale appeared in 2016 when the European Commission issued a "Code of Conduct" in which social network service providers launched a series of commitment against cyber-hate speech in Europe. It is clear that in addition to the specific and strict legal regulations, measures aimed at promptly processing infringing notices, removing infringing content are essential.


Of course, banning hate speeches online is not enough. Education is one of the complementary, and equally important solution. Pascale Garreau, head of the European Commission's "Fearless Internet" program, concludes that "education is the key to changing online behavior, and then behaving in public." The French Ministry of Education, has coordinated several projects and campaigns to direct the attention of students and their parents to the issue about online speeches. This committee aims to educate students on the concepts of "digital citizenship" to receive adequate and responsible information on social networks, to help them understand their political, social and cultural rights as well as social networking speeches and the consequences of violating social media guidelines.


Facebook has also made more positive moves recently in France, particularly in launching three specific programs. The Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI) aims at encouraging speeches against hatred, calling for unity, promoting human values, encouraging research in the field, and encouraging Campaigns against hate speech. P2P: Challenge Extremism is a program that encourages students in French universities to set up "digital" campaigns and social networks against extreme ideas. Finally, the Facebook program with La Fondation de France promotes the development of "counterintelligence", an effective remedy against hate speech.


In Vietnam, hate speech is all over social network sites. Swearing, threatening, humiliating, libelous or even slanderous - are familiar "facebook" behaviors. Sometimes, there are no specific reasons such as racism, religion, sex, but simply ... like the curse, not the same point of view is ... humiliation. The more famous the newspaper, the more likely for it to fall victim to thesehate speech. This author has documented a woman who has been humiliated on Facebook because her views do not satisfy many people. Instead of criticizing the point of view, they focus on insulting her form, sexually, as a completely normal thing. In the face of the growing popularity of illegal hate speech, this is time for Vietnam to take the necessary measures to limit these speeches, for the sake of peace and social solidarity. The experience of France in this regard can be a valuable lesson for Vietnam.

Ms. Le Thi Thien Huong, ​Ph.D candidate in Copyright Law, Poitiers University, French

​Research Fellow in Internet and Law - Public Governance, VPIS