French president Macron proposes 'fake news' law
French president Emmanuel Macron is proposing a law that would place restrictions on social media sites on the content they allow online during elections.
France does not have a First Amendment or anything resembling legal free speech protections.
The restrictions are draconian and appear designed to protect the reputations of politicians more than the dissemination of "truth" on the internet.
Speaking at a new year reception for the media, Mr[.] Macron said it was possible now at a cost of just a few thousand euros to propagate untruths over social media.
"Thousands of propaganda accounts on social networks are spreading all over the world, in all languages, lies invented to tarnish political officials, personalities, public figures, journalists," he said.
In response, he proposed imposing tougher rules on social media about revealing the sources of apparent news content.
He also said limits would be put on how much could be spent on sponsored news material.
"We will develop our legal system to protect democracy from this fake news," he said, quoted by AFP.
Who is to decide whether information about a politician is "fake" or not?
France's audiovisual regulator would be given extra powers to "fight any destabili[z]ation attempt by television channels controlled or influenced by foreign states[,]" he added.
Mr[.] Macron denounced Russia media outlets RT and Sputnik at a joint news conference with Russian [p]resident Vladimir Putin last May, accusing them of spreading "deceitful propaganda[.]"
Since then RT has launched a French-language TV channel.
The bottom line is that the "audiovisual regulator" will have enormous power to decide what should be banned and what should be allowed. It's a remarkable development in a supposedly free country. What is to stop the regulator from banning speech simply because he disagrees with it? Will information about global warming that doesn't comport with "accepted" science be squashed? The nightmare prospect of legitimate political speech being banned because the regulator disagrees with it will become real in France.
Macron wants to treat voters like five-year-old children, unable to resist the siren call of "fake news." We have a similar problem with some politicians in America, who are trying to make a case that Donald Trump was elected because millions of voters were swayed by fake news from Russia. True, some low-information voters believed that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were involved in a child sex ring, and there were other outrageously false claims about her (and Trump). But those predisposed to believe this nonsense were not going to vote for the opposition candidate anyway, so it's an open question whether "fake news" had any effect at all on the election.
Will the French law crack down on major media outlets who spread lies about the National Front, the nationalist party in France? Somehow, it's likely that those incidents will get buried in the bureaucracy.