France is to impose stricter regulation of abusive posts on social media to end “online impunity” and compel platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to take down hateful posts.
The move follows a scandal over a macho “boys’ club” of male media executives who trolled female colleagues online.
Eight journalists and public relations executives have have resigned or been suspended this week after they admitted anonymously hounding feminists and minority colleagues online.
All eight belonged to a closed Facebook group called “The League of LOL”. More than 20 others faced calls to resign after they were also accused of bullying women with pornographic memes and off-colour jokes about rape.
Mounir Mahjoubi, the digital affairs minister, said the government was considering changing the legal status of social networks to make them more accountable for user-generated content.
They could be reclassified in somewhere between social media platforms and publishers, making them liable to heavier fines and tighter regulation, which is already the case in Germany.
At a glance | Facebook’s moderation rules
The current status of networks such as Facebook and Twitter as content-sharing platforms “significantly limits their responsibility” for online abuse and harassment, Mr Mahjoubi said.
A bill which is to be presented to the French parliament by the end of June will be partly inspired by existing German legislation, said Marlène Schiappa, the minister for gender equality.
The bill will also aim to speed up the identification of those who put up hateful messages, and foster more public awareness of the “duty of care” of social networks, Mr Mahjoubi said.
“It’s unacceptable to have them dictating the rules all by themselves… The authors of hateful content must understand that we will find them wherever they are and we will make them stop their violence.”
Britain is also planning a legal crackdown on harmful content online. Margot James, the digital minister, said last week that voluntary codes had failed and platforms should be made legally responsible for user-generated content on their sites.
She was speaking after the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who killed herself after watching self-harm images and suicide posts on Instagram.
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