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Laws and regulations chips at expression rights at the heart of Europe

In attempts to tackle social media regulation, fake news, hate speech, and terrorist content, countries in Europe are making errors that could serve as poor examples for other legislation across the world.

Following reports of Russian interference in the French election, the French government proposed a law to fight fake news during elections, allowing judges to immediately remove news deemed ‘fake’, including on broadcast TV. The law’s vague definitions are not only unworkable but also open to abuse.[1] Similarly questionable legislation is emerging across the region, which will (among other violations) end the right to online anonymity and require websites to moderate comments.[2] Overseen by the European Commission in October 2018, online platforms and the advertising industry agreed on a ‘Code of Practice on Online Disinformation’, but unfortunately this is too vague to provide adequate human rights protection.[3]

Many countries in Europe have experienced a rise in hate speech incidents in recent years, giving rise to new ‘hate speech’ legislation – much of which is poorly-drafted and problematic for the right to freedom of expression.

Analysis of legislation and regulation in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom gives cause for concern; many of the recent laws effectively criminalise certain types of expression, as well as creating inconsistent application and interpretation.[4]

The European Commission proposed its Regulation on Preventing the Dissemination of Terrorist Content Online in September, which included drastic and disproportionate measures without safeguards or oversight.[5] The EU also passed its General Directive on Data Protection, a landmark modernisation of existing law on data protection .[6]

 

[1] ARTICLE 19, France: La proposition de loi contre la manipulation de l’information viole les standards internationaux [MISE À JOUR], 23 July 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/fr/resources/france-la-proposition-de-loi-contre-la-manipulation-de-linformation-viole-les-standards-internationaux-mise-a-jour/

[2] For example, Belarus proposed ‘Fake News’: Committee to Protect Journalists, Belarus Moves to Prosecute ‘Fake News,’ Control the Internet, 8 June 2018, available at https://cpj.org/2018/06/belarus-moves-to-prosecute-fake-news-control-the-i.php

[3] ARTICLE 19, EU: New Code of Practice on Disinformation fails to Provide Clear Commitments, or Protect Fundamental Rights, 9 October 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/es/resources/eu-new-code-of-practice-on-disinformation-fails-to-provide-clear-commitments-or-protect-fundamental-rights/

[4] ARTICLE 19, Responding to ‘Hate Speech’: Comparative Overview of Six EU Countries, 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/ECA-hate-speech-compilation-report_March-2018.pdf

[5] ARTICLE 19, Joint Letter on European Commission Regulation on Online Terrorist Content, 6 December 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/joint-letter-on-european-commission-regulation-on-online-terrorist-content/

[6] Privacy International, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), n.d., available at https://privacyinternational.org/topics/general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr

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