French report calls for more access to Facebook algorithms as Macron meets Zuckerberg

Yoan VALAT / EPA POOL / AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron (R) poses with CEO and co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg (L) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, May 10, 2019.

French authorities should have more access to Facebook’s algorithms to audit its policies on hate speech, a report concluded. The French report was published hours before Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and President Macron met Friday.


It comes after Facebook has been heavily criticised by politicians and the public for its failure to more rapidly remove footage of the March shooting attack in Christchurch, New Zealand from its network. Fifty people were killed in the assault, with the shocking footage of it circulating online for days.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who met Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, commissioned the report. He wants France to take a leading role in tech regulation, seeking to strike a balance between what he perceives as the United States' laissez-faire stance and China's iron grip on the Internet.

The Facebook chief said after the meeting with Macron that he was "encouraged" and "optimistic" about the regulatory framework being suggested by France for the social media giant and other online platforms.

"I am hopeful that it can become a model" that can be used "across the EU", Zuckerberg said.

Report recommends independent regulator

The 33-page report, co-written by a former head of public affairs for Google France, recommends increasing oversight over the world's largest social media network and allowing an independent regulator to police the efforts of large tech companies to deal with hate speech.

The report calls for laws allowing the government to investigate and fine social networks that don't take responsibility for the content that makes them money.

The report comes after Facebook allowed a team of French regulators to spend six months inside the company monitoring its policies. This represents a "half-time" assessment from their time at the American giant which started in January.

"The inadequacy and lack of credibility in the self-regulatory approach adopted by the largest platforms justify public intervention to make them more responsible," the report said.

Companies like Facebook cannot simply declare themselves to be transparent, it added, noting that checking the integrity of the algorithms they use was a particularly complex task.

French lawmaker Laetitia Avia told FRANCE 24, “the government has been working mostly on the repression and prevention of hate speech.”

“The bill proposes […] that the French broadcast regulator, the CSA, could evolve and also do digital regulation”, she explained.

“There is a big problem about the hegemony of such big companies that rule all the digital area today,” said Avia, a member of Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) party.

“Because what users really need here is protection”, she added. “And I think they [Edit: Facebook] have the money and the people they need [...] this fight against hatred a priority.”

Zuckerberg slammed by one of Facebook founders

This week, Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook with Zuckerberg while they were at Harvard, wrote in a long opinion piece in the New York Times that he believed the company was too powerful and needed to be broken up. He added that Zuckerberg has turned Facebook into an innovation-suffocating monopoly and lamented the company's "slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news."

France's parliament, where Macron's ruling party has a comfortable majority, is debating legislation that would give the new regulator the power to fine tech companies up to 4% of their global revenue if they don't do enough to remove hateful content from their network.

"Our goal is to move ... towards proper regulation," a source close to the Finance Ministry said.

Facebook's decision to allow the team of French regulators inside the company was the first time the wary company had opened its doors in such a way.

The regulators did not have access to confidential corporate information, the finance ministry official said. The French task-force has also been holding meetings with Facebook in the United States.

Internet regulation

Zuckerberg's visit comes notably amid concern about hate speech and disinformation around this month's European Parliament elections.

Next week, the leaders of France and New Zealand will meet tech leaders in Paris for a summit seeking to ban acts of violent extremism and terrorism from being shown online.

Facebook has faced challenges over privacy and security lapses and accusations of endangering democracy.

'A new model for content regulation'

Responding to the report, Facebook's vice president for policy, Richard Allan, echoed Zuckerberg's positive response, saying, “The report sets out a path towards a new model for content regulation that has the potential to be both effective and workable."

"It would allow platforms to develop innovative solutions to keep their users safe while being clearly accountable to a regulator for how well they do this."


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