France is the latest country attempting to fight the scourge of fake news with legislation — but opponents say the law won’t work and could even be used to silence critics.
The draft law, designed to stop what the government calls “manipulation of information” in the run-up to elections, will be debated in parliament Thursday with a view to it being put into action during next year’s European parliamentary polls.
The idea for the bill came straight from President Emmanuel Macron, who was himself targeted during his 2017 campaign by online rumours that he was gay and had a secret bank account in the Bahamas.
Under the law, French authorities would be able to immediately halt the publication of information deemed to be false ahead of elections.
Social networks would have to introduce measures allowing users to flag up false reports, pass their data on such articles to authorities, and make public their efforts against fake news.
And the law would authorise the state to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they were attempting to destabilise France — a measure seemingly aimed at Russian state-backed outlet RT in particular.
– Censorship? –
European governments have struggled to work out how to respond to the fake news phenomenon, not least after accusations of Kremlin meddling in France and the US presidential vote that brought Donald Trump to power.
The British government has set up a “fake news” unit, while Italy has an online service to report false articles and the European Union is working on a “code of practice” that would provide guidelines for social media companies.
France wants to go further — though not as far as neighbouring Germany, where social networks face fines of up to 50 million euros ($58 million) under a controversial law which critics say is overly draconian.