France Looks to Access Facebook's Algorithms to Combat Hate Speech

A report commissioned by Macron recommends increasing oversight over the social media network in an attempt to take a leading role on tech regulation

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FILE Photo: Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018.
FILE Photo: Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018. Credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters

French authorities should have more access to Facebook's algorithms and greater scope to audit the social media company's internal policies against hate speech, a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron has concluded. 

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 footage of it circulating online for days. 

>> Read more: Liberals, don't celebrate Facebook's ban on anti-Semites and hard right extremists | Opinion 

The French president, who will meet Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg later on Friday, wants France to take a leading role on 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 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 comes after Facebook allowed a team of French regulators to spend six months inside the company monitoring its policies. It represents a "half-time" assessment for their stint 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. 

Helpful primer

Responding to the report, Facebook's vice president for policy, Richard Allan, said it was a helpful primer for the way forward and suggested there were grounds for cooperation. 

"The report sets out a path towards a new model for content regulation that has the potential to be both effective and workable," he said. 

"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." 

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. 

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 four percent 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.