​France to tighten online bullying laws after media ‘boys’ club’ scandal

France said Thursday it is toughening its internet abuse laws after an outcry over young media executives who ran a macho “boys’ club” that bullied female colleagues online.

Two government ministers said new rules will be tabled before the end of June to force YouTube and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to pull hateful posts.

Eight journalists and public relations executives who belonged to the “League of LOL” Facebook group have either been suspended or stepped down this week since they were accused of targeting feminists and minority colleagues online.

The affair is being dubbed the “French media’s #MeToo”, with the closed group branded a “boys’ club” which harassed women online with pornographic memes and off-colour jokes about rape culture.

France’s Digital Affairs Minister Mounir Mahjoubi, who described those behind the League of LOL as “losers”, said the government was also considering changing the legal status of social networks to make them face up to their responsibilities.

He said Facebook and Twitter’s existing status as sharing platforms “significantly limits their responsibility” for online abuse and harassment.

Mahjoubi said they could be reclassified somewhere between platforms and publishers, which would expose them to heavier fines and regulation, as already happens in neighbouring Germany.

Twitter ‘not up to scratch’

And he was particularly critical of Twitter.

“If we want to fight against harassment, platforms have to step up and invest, and today Twitter is not up to scratch,” he told France Inter radio.

Equality minister Marlene Schiappa, who is working with Mahjoubi on the new rules, said earlier she was considering extending the six-year cut-off for prosecuting alleged crimes.

Under the law as it stands, only online bullies who put up abusive posts after 2013 can be prosecuted under the statute of limitations.

Mahjoubi said Thursday that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had “particular responsibility” to act on online bullying and hate, and the new “legal and non-legal steps being considered to regulate the chain of hate” would oblige them to take down such content.

He said the reforms would be part of a package of online measures already being examined under a review ordered by President Emmanuel Macron.

The government wanted to protect online anonymity, but “it depends” on how it is used, he added.

“There are certain areas where we cannot go on having it, as in online petitions where there should be no anonymity,” Mahjoubi insisted.

The League of LOL scandal, which first surfaced at the weekend, continues to rock the French media, with many of its predominantly-male members apologising for their behaviour or for not speaking out.

Victims of the group recounted how the attacks and pranks had pushed one woman to quit journalism and left another suicidal.

In a separate episode, three journalists from the French edition of the Huffington Post news site were sacked on Monday for making “unacceptable remarks in a work context”.

Le Monde newspaper — which has a stake in the site — said the three were fired over their posts on another closed Facebook page.

© Agence France-Presse

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Fiachra Gibbons
Editor of culture, food and fashion at AFP.

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