France tightening online bullying laws after French media’s #MeToo scandal

French Junior Minister for Gender Equality Marlene Schiappa reacts to the secret media group known as "League of LOL", which was exposed for harassing women colleagues online. The affair is being dubbed the "French media's #MeToo", with Liberation newspaper referring to the group as a "boys' club" which bullied women online and cracked off-colour jokes about rape culture. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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France tightening online bullying laws after French media’s #MeToo scandal

  • Eight journalists and public relations executives who belonged to the “League of LOL” Facebook group have either been suspended or stepped down
  • France’s Digital Affairs Minister Mounir Mahjoubi said the government was considering changing the legal status of social media

PARIS: France said Thursday it is toughening its online abuse laws after an outcry over young media executives who ran a macho “boys’ club” that hounded female colleagues, in a scandal that has been called French media’s #MeToo moment.
Two government ministers said new rules will be tabled before the end of June to force social media platforms to pull hateful posts, with Twitter coming in for particular criticism.
Eight journalists and public relations executives who belonged to the “League of LOL” Facebook group have either been suspended or stepped down this week since they were accused of targeting feminists and minority colleagues online.
The affair is being dubbed the “French media’s #MeToo,” with the closed group condemned for bullying women online with pornographic memes and off-color jokes about rape culture.
France’s Digital Affairs Minister Mounir Mahjoubi said the government was considering changing the legal status of social media to make them face up to their responsibilities.
“It’s unacceptable to have them dictating the rules all by themselves,” he told Le Figaro newspaper.
Mahjoubi rounded on Twitter, saying: “I find it intolerable when I see the head of Twitter (Jack Dorsey) informing the world in a single message that the conditions have changed, without anybody having the right to weigh in.”
A Twitter spokeswoman said the company’s highest priority was the “the conversation’s serenity.”
She added that Twitter was investing more in technology and had reinforced its security policies.
As a result, the group had noticed “a drop in the number of complaints” by users, the spokeswoman said.
Mahjoubi noted that Twitter and Facebook’s existing status as sharing platforms “significantly limits their responsibility” for online abuse and harassment.
He said they could be reclassified somewhere between platforms and publishers, which would expose them to heavier fines and regulation, as already happens in neighboring Germany.
“If we want to fight against harassment, platforms have to step up and invest, and today Twitter is not up to scratch,” he later told France Inter radio.
Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa, who is working with Mahjoubi on the new rules, was equally scathing about the network, taking issue with the “cold, automatic Twitter responses to victims’ notifications” about content they deem abusive or insensitive.
“Sometimes there are lives at stake,” she said, alluding to suicides linked to cyberbullying.
Mahjoubi — who described the League of LOL as a bunch of “losers” — said Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had “particular responsibility” to act on online bullying and hate.
New “legal and non-legal steps being considered to regulate the chain of hate” would oblige them to take down such content, he said.
He contrasted Twitter’s attitude with that of Facebook, which agreed last year to open its doors to French officials seeking to understand how it screens posts seen as sexist, racist or encouraging violence.
“Facebook has the merit of showing goodwill,” he said.
Paris is particularly irritated by the prudishness of US-based platforms about nudity while they seem to give free rein to hate speech.
Schiappa said on Monday an extension to the six-year cut-off for prosecuting online abuse was being examined under a wide-ranging review ordered by President Emmanuel Macron.
Currently, only abusive posts put up since 2013 can be prosecuted under the statute of limitations.
Macron has repeatedly argued that new laws are needed to defend French values, calling for a solution that combines self-regulation with an element of state control.
Last week, he caused controversy by suggesting a ban on anonymous postings on social media.
Mahjoubi on Thursday said the government wanted to protect online anonymity, but admitted “it depends” on how it is used.
“There are certain areas where we cannot go on having anonymity, as in online petitions,” he said.
And online platforms should be faster at cracking down on anonymous hate speech, he added.
In an open letter published in Le Monde on Thursday, 900 leading French journalists condemned the League of LOL, saying the “profession was riven with systematic sexism.”


Popular New Zealand website seeks comments detox after Christchurch attack

Updated 26 March 2019
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Popular New Zealand website seeks comments detox after Christchurch attack

  • “The individual is segregated from other prisoners and able to be observed 24 hours a day, either directly by staff and/or via CCTV camera,” it said in a statement

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s largest news website, Stuff, cracked down on reader comments Tuesday after the Christchurch mosque massacre sparked debate about how the media handles online hate.
The stuff.co.nz site said it aimed to host a welcoming online environment but conceded “too often, our comments section has allowed casual prejudice to seep in from the fringes.”
“Of the comments that are posted, most are fair expression — but it only takes a little toxin to poison an entire stream,” Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson wrote on the website.
Christchurch shooting accused Brenton Tarrant is believed to have posted a rambling “manifesto” online before a gun rampage at two mosques that claimed 50 lives in the South Island city on March 15.
Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist, apparently made references in the document designed to maximize mainstream media coverage of his actions.
He also livestreamed the attack and the footage was aired by some media outlets — although New Zealand authorities have since banned both the video and the document.
The atrocity, the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history, has prompted soul-searching among journalists and media outlets about how to stop extremists using them as a vehicle to spread extreme views.
“The accused’s abhorrent ideology was rehearsed in the darkest corners of the web, not on mainstream news sites, but it’s still timely for us to check the health of Stuff’s comments section,” Crewdson wrote.
He said the site’s moderators would clamp down on personal attacks and prejudice, while the ability to upvote or downvote comments would be removed.

In addition, comments will be permanently disabled on a range of contentious topics, including the Christchurch shootings, Israel/Palestine, vaccinations and transgender issues.
“We’ll be accused of censorship and curtailing free speech, others will say we should shutter the comments section entirely,” Crewdson said.
Stuff, formerly Fairfax New Zealand, is one of New Zealand’s largest media companies, with newspaper mastheads including the Christchurch Press and Wellington’s Dominion Post.
Its flagship news website stuff.co.nz is New Zealand’s most popular with around 1.8 million unique viewers a month, just ahead of the other major player, nzherald.co.nz.
Meanwhile, authorities have confirmed Tarrant’s next court appearance will be in Christchurch, even though he is believed to have been moved to a prison elsewhere in the country.
The Justice Department confirmed his next scheduled appearance is in Christchurch High Court on Friday, April 5, although it is unclear if he will be physically present in the dock or appear via video.
Tarrant has reportedly been transferred to New Zealand’s only maximum-security facility at the recently upgraded Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.
The Corrections Department refused to confirm Tarrant’s location but did provide some details about the conditions he faces.
“The individual is segregated from other prisoners and able to be observed 24 hours a day, either directly by staff and/or via CCTV camera,” it said in a statement.
“He is being managed in accordance with the provisions set out in the Corrections Act 2004 and our international obligations for the treatment of prisoners. At this time he has no access to television, radio or newspapers and no approved visitors.”
New Zealand media have reported that if convicted, the accused will likely be isolated to prevent him being targeted by the largely Polynesian prison population over his white supremacist views.