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French lawmakers back fines for companies like Facebook and Google that leave hate speech online

Key Points
  • French lawmakers backed a bill Thursday that would levy fines on platforms and search engines that fail to remove hate speech after 24 hours.
  • The bill follows a similar measure in Germany that went into effect last year.
  • Critics warn the law could place too much responsibility on private companies to regulate speech.
Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) meets with French President Emmanuel Macron (R) at the Elysee presidential palace following the "Tech for Good" summit in Paris on May 23, 2018.
Christophe Petit Tesson  AFP | Getty Images

French lawmakers backed a bill Thursday that would give platforms and search engines like Facebook and Google 24 hours to remove hate speech before being hit with fines up to the equivalent of $1.4 million, The Financial Times reported.

The approval comes as world leaders are hotly debating the balance between free speech and content moderation online. Facebook and Google-owned YouTube both came under fire in March when videos of an attack on a mosque in New Zealand continued to pop up on their platforms in the hours after the event. The incident renewed scrutiny of the companies' ability to screen out sensitive content.

The French law would require platforms to remove content that incites terrorism, hate or violence, among other things, according to The Associated Press, and requires search engines to stop referencing the content.

France's proposed law follows a 2018 measure in Germany known as NetzDG, which also gives online platforms 24 hours to remove flagged content that violates its hate speech laws or face fines up to 50 million euros ($56 million).

Germany is known for its relatively firm laws on hate speech, which prohibits praising Nazi ideology, for example. But the online hate speech measure has sparked pushback from activists and academics who fear the law suppresses speech and say it puts too much responsibility on internet companies to regulate it.

The French law, which has prompted similar warnings, must still be approved in a final vote expected to take place on Tuesday, according to state-owned network France 24.

Last week, Facebook agreed to give French judges identification data of French users suspected of hate speech, according to France's minister for digital affairs, Cedric O. The decision followed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron, whose party proposed the new hate speech law.

Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

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