Fighting False Information - A Permanent Co-Regulation System

1. Extension of the CSA’s Prerogatives relating to Foreign Media

Out of the election period, the CSA is empowered to reject an application for a distribution agreement from a service that involves a “serious risk of prejudice” to fundamental values and interests such as human dignity, pluralism of ideas and opinions or the protection of public order. This applies to all types of services, traditional or electronic, including those that may come to be controlled or influenced by a foreign State.

In this specific case, the new Article 33-1 of the aforementioned Law on Freedom of Communication invites the CSA to “take into account the content that the applicant, its subsidiaries, the legal person that controls it or its subsidiaries, publish on other communication services to the public by electronic means”.

In the same vein, the powers of the CSA concerning the unilateral termination of an agreement and the referral to the administrative judge for interim relief against the dissemination or distribution are extended to false information disseminated under the control or influence of foreign States (new Articles 42-6 and -10 of the 1984 Law).

2. Cooperation of Digital Platforms with the CSA

In accordance with a logic of accountability, the new legislation requires the platforms concerned during elections to adopt a series of measures aimed, on a permanent basis, at better combating the dissemination of false information (Article 11).

From the point of view of active combat, the legislator expects online operators to :

  • Establish system of easy access and use allowing their users to report false information, especially when it comes from sponsored content;

  • Define and apply a proportional regime of sanctions against accounts serving as dissemination relays (from warning to banishment).

From the point of view of passive combat, they must contribute to media education and publish useful information on :

  • The operation of their algorithms, their operating modes, the determination and weighting of their criteria;

  • The identity of sponsors behind sponsored content related to a debate of general interest;

  • And the processing of false information, specifying the nature, origin and methods of their dissemination.

Each year, the platforms concerned must publish a summary of all the measures taken in the performance of their duties. In the form of a report, this document is sent to the CSA, which monitors it, issues recommendations and publishes periodic reports on the compliance of practices (Article 17). Recalcitrant platforms are at risk of being singled out and subjected to harmful publicity.

Fighting against false information to avoid manipulation of public opinion – who would complain about it ? However, the application of this plan is not without risk of blocking real information or impeding freedom of expression. Everyone knows that, under dictatorship, any information contrary to power is always presented as false information.

Preventing the manipulation of opinion while preserving freedom of opinion ? The future will tell us whether this law has managed to preserve such an essential balance.

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