France wants more power to censor social media

As the EU works to refine its massive Digital Services Act, France is publicly lobbying for greater national censorship powers and for more content to be made illegal.

We know this because Cedric O, the French minister for the digital economy, chatted to the FT about it. “Getting these laws passed is a major objective of ours for when France next holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council next year,” he said. “They touch on vitally important subjects both for our economies and democracies.”

O may have been referring to recent coverage of French politicians and academics pushing back on what they perceive as US ‘woke leftism’ and ‘cancel culture’ because they’re worried about it undermining the French identity. Since the major social media platforms are all American and have frequently been accused of bias in favour of exactly the sort of the thing the French are concerned about, it would appear that’s where they think the solution lies.

Essentially we’re talking about a fear of American cultural imperialism carried out via social media. While that’s understandable, it puts France and the EU in a bit of a pickle. What O seems to be lobbying for in the interview is the ability for individual countries to apply their own unique cultural sensibilities to social media censorship, while the EU wants to homogenise and centralise it, of course.

Further evidence of this is provided by O’s desire to expand the types of online speech covered by the DSA “We think the text needs to be broadened to include other types of problematic content,” he said. “If there is no legal framework there is nothing to stop Twitter or Facebook from censoring speech they do not like.”

A much simpler solution would be to simply make it illegal for social media platforms to censor at all, unless the speech was clearly illegal. That wouldn’t require any raising of the legal bar and it looks like the French government is trying to use this issue to increase its own powers of censorship. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the DSA doesn’t increase social media censorship, the only remaining question seems to concern who will wield that power.

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