France: Distasteful expression should not be criminalised

Following the deadly attacks in Paris last week, over 54 people have been detained by police in France for ‘defending or glorifying terrorism,’ and it is believed many of the arrests could stem from comments made on social media. This follows EU and US discussions to possible responses to the attacks which resulted in calls for internet providers to create a means for ‘swift reporting’ and removal of material that aims to incite hatred and terror.

Executive Director of ARTICLE19 Thomas Hughes said:

“We are deeply concerned that a large number of these arrests are believed to stem from comments made on Facebook, Twitter and social media as the world reacted to the atrocities, and would stress again, that however offensive and distasteful, unless comments are inciting hatred or violence, they must be considered as legitimate expression and not criminalised.

“We are also worried that a broader French crackdown on perceived hate speech, extremism and anti-Semitism could spread EU and even US wide, and express caution about calls for a ‘reporting’ mechanism to be used to stifle legitimate – albeit highly distasteful – speech without due process safeguards.

“Although incitement to terrorism and advocacy of hatred that constitutes violence, hostility or discrimination must be prohibited under international law, this often translates into too-broad or vague domestic laws that are used to silence dissenting opinions and offensive speech. Which is why we think that social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter should only be required to remove such content by the courts.”