Hate speech online: Belgian CSA calls for new legal duties concerning social networks and online platforms

posted on 05 March, 2020   (public)

Guidance note recommends extended scope of competence and increased accountability of online platforms and social networks

Building on the trend observed in several European countries, such as Germany and France, the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (CSA) released a guidance note on 5 February 2020, which encourages the legislator of the French-speaking Community of Belgium to take concrete measures against online hate speech.

The guidance note :

  • briefly describes the general context of the changing media ecosystem, which enables citizens to create and share content, also including hate speech
  • provides an analysis of the current European framework applicable to illegal online content as well as an overview of measures taken, or under consideration, by other EU member States (Italy, Ireland, France, Germany)
  • proposes the introduction of a number of regulatory measures.

In the CSA's view, the current liability of online platforms is too limited given the important role they play in spreading hate speech among young people. While video-sharing-platforms are included in the scope of (audiovisual) regulation through the revised AVMSD, this is not the case for social media, forums and posts. Considering that the exposure of young people to hate speech on online platforms and social media is increasing and that the current legal framework does not allow efficient responses, the Belgian CSA calls for the Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles to introduce a decree establishing a new co-regulatory system, which could ultimately give an impulse to a future European legal framework.

More specifically, the CSA advocates for:

The introduction of new rules such as:

  • Clear and precise conditions and terms of use of the services;
  • Specific information for minors using the services;
  • Clear, detailed and easily accessible information on the reporting mechanism, the notification, the possible sanctions and the content moderation system
  • A reporting and notification mechanism and the withdrawal of manifestly unlawful content within 24 hours
  • A semi-annual report sent to the regulator;
  • The appointment of a legal representative for the territory.

The new rules would apply to any online content sharing platform providing its services in the French-speaking region of Belgium and the bilingual part of Brussels and with at least 20% of users in this geographic area;

The CSA would monitor and supervise compliance, and would be entitled to impose administrative fines (up to 4% of the worldwide annual revenue);

Criminal penalties could be imposed to executives from platform operators in case of non-compliance with the obligations.

This guidance note echoes the NetzDG law in Germany and the draft law on online hate in France (Proposition de loi “Avia” visant à lutter contre la haine sur internet) currently under debate in the French Parliament. In the meantime, in the UK, following the public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, the Government has announced that Ofcom will be  in charge of regulating the internet, with potential criminal penalties for executives of internet firms failing to protect users from “harmful and illegal content” online.

Source: CSA (BE)