[A2k] On Facebook, French Antiracists Fall Victim to Censorship

La Quadrature du Net contact at laquadrature.net
Mon Sep 19 07:30:47 PDT 2016


Press Release 


La Quadrature du Net -- For immediate release 

Permanent link:
https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship [1] 



Sihame Assbague is one of the leading representatives of the French
"political antiracists", a new generation of activists that is bringing
some fresh air to the struggles against discriminations, police violence
and sexism. In late June, Facebook notified her that one of her post,
entitled "post-terrorist attack guide", had been taken down for violating
its terms of use. 

Probably warned by Facebook users hostile to Sihame's speech, some
subcontractors of the Californian company in charge of enforcing its
censorship policy decided to suspend her account for 24 hours. They gave no
explanation as to which "community standards [2]" Sihame allegedly

On 11 July, a similar sequence occurred, this time for a critical analysis
of the media coverage of mass murders in the United States: 

Besides the takedown of the post, Facebook's punishment was an account
suspension of 72 hours. 

But the summer would bring other surprises. Late July, it was the turn of
Marwan Muhammad, statistician and activist of the Collective Against
Islamophobia in France (CCIF), to suffer from Facebook's censorship policy.

Then, in late August, Philippe Marlière, professor of political sciences
in London, had his account suspended during five days for having defended
[3] the right for women to dress as they wish, during the ludicrous
controversy around the "burkini". Afterwards, Marlière reported that he
had spoken with a Facebook employee located in the United States who told
him that his account had been desactivated because "numerous people had
made a request to that end". 


In the past, we have seen such private censorship being practiced in the
name of public decency - with the prohibition of works of art by famous
painters (the "Origin of the World [4]" by Gustave Courbet), representation
of nipples [5], of female hairiness [6] -, or even of "robocopyrights [7]"
deployed in the name of copyright. But so far, for the antiracist movement,
Internet platforms had by and large remained spaces where speech was
relatively free. Not anymore. 

In 2013, a civil society working group suggested to include in the French
criminal code a general provision to punish infringements on someone else's
freedom of expression [8] - a proposal echoing [9] that made as early as
1999 by Laurent Chemla. Such a provision aimed among other things at
preventing online platforms like Facebook - who enjoy special legal
protections because of their status of "technical intermediary" - to use
their terms of service to undermine the freedom of expression of their
users. The goal was to ensure that these private actors would not turn
themselves into the judges, by imposing contractual rules restricting
freedom of expression below what is afforded by the 1881 French law on
freedom of the press.1 [10] Coupled with the systematic collection by the
police of user complaints against litigious content, with the reinforcement
of the means allocated to police and the judiciary and with a
notice-and-notice procedure allowing for amicable takedowns, such a
procedure would help reconcile freedom of expression with the effective
enforcement of its abuse, while respecting the rule of law.2 [11] 

But let's be lucid: In the current context, there isn't much hope for such
a proposal. With every speech and law they make on the issue, politicians
make it clear [12] that, for them, the basic safeguards laid down in the
1881 press law - and in particular the judicial protection of freedom of
expression - are way too generous to apply on the Internet. Instead, their
favored policy option is the creation of public-private censorship
assemblages to circumvent the judicial authority. 


In 2004, during the French transposition of the so-called eCommerce
Directive [13] with the adoption of the Law for the Confidence in the
Digital Economy or LCEN), the Constitutional Council warned that the
"characterization of an illicit message can be tricky, even for a lawyer".3
[14] But in the recent years, the government has continued to delegate
censorship to large Internet firms, with the support of some
non-governmental organizations fighting against discrimination. Homophobia,
sexism, handiphobia, apology of violence, prostitution or terrorism have
thus been added to crimes against humanity, child pornography and Holocaust
denial in the long list of offenses whose punishment is privatised.4 [15] 

At the same time, a law on terrorism [16] adopted in November 2014
transferred the "apology of terrorism" offense from the 1881 press law to
the criminal code, in order to circumvent the procedural safeguards that
this "great law" of the Third Republic [17] offers to those who express
themselves - a move that explains the immediate trials and prison sentences
pronounced after the Paris attacks in January 2015 for statements of
dubious dangerousness, and which led a body of the UN Human Rights Council
to voice its concerns [18] to the French government. The government also
extended the administrative blocking of websites originally created for
child pornography to "terrorist content", a dangerous measure that is
already proving useless [19]. 

Then, in 2015, the political response to the Paris attacks led to three
major changes for civil liberties on the Internet. First, the adoption of
the Intelligence Act [20], which validated and normalized programs of mass
surveillance and allowed the government to try to evacuate most of
post-Snowden controversies (the law was extended [21] this summer again
after the attack of Nice). Second, the adoption of the state of emergency,
and the hundreds of very controversial computer searches that it made
possible. And finally, the extension of extra-judicial censorship for
terrorist propaganda. Last year Bernard Cazeneuve, the Minister of the
Interior, proudly announced the creation of a partnership [22] in this
field between his Ministry and major Silicon Valley companies and telecom
firms. Meanwhile at the European level, Europol [23] has developed without
any real democratic control a strong relationship with the digital
oligopoly, while a pending European directive [24] on the fight against
terrorism aims not only to encourage the administrative blocking of
websites but also to give a blank check to these developments by calling
for enhanced cooperation between private firms and police services. 

Private censorship is now of such great magnitude that large companies in
turn outsource these tasks to companies in Morocco or India whose
ultra-precarious "moderators" [25] completely unaware of the cultural and
legal subtleties of the regions they regulate. These "assembly line"
censors often rely on algorithms [26] tasked with identifying terrorist
propaganda, and which are bound to play an increasing role [26] in the
automated takedown of online content. 

Gradually, the judicial protection of freedom of expression is undermined
in favor of an alliance between overloaded police services, foreign
subcontractors and automatic filters. Without really knowing why or how,
Sihame Assbague and many others are bearing the costs of these dangerous
trends, even though their speech is not only a most useful form of public
expression, but also entirely lawful. 


Such censorship is all the more concerning that antiracists are often
stigmatized in the dominant public sphere. Laurent Joffrin, publishing
director of the newspaper em>Libération, recently denied [27] recently the
right to assemble on the basis of a shared identity. In the government,
Prime Minister Manuel Valls as well as Ministers Bernard Cazeneuve and
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem have criticized them for "conforting racialized and
racist vision of society [28]", or accused them of being "partisan of all
communautarisms [29]". As if the denunciation of racism in France - also
relayed by organizations as subversive as the United Nations, the Council
of Europe or Amnesty International - made these activists the objective
allies of both terrorism and structural inequalities. 

On "social networks", these same activists are often subjects to threats or
other forms of intimidations. Such was once again the case after the Nice
attack, as some Twitter users claimed [30] that Siham Assbague had "the
blood of [...] French people on her hands". Just like those in the United
States who have accused the movement _Black Lives Matter_ of being
responsible for the shooting of police officers in Texas and Louisiana,
some in France do not hesitate to say that antiracist activists play into
the hands of terrorists by "radicalising" part of French youths, simply
because they call on them to reclaim their rights. 

Even an older antiracist NGO such as the LICRA - one of the most active
[31] in asking for the extension of private censorship online - did not shy
away from comparing [32] these activists to the Ku Klux Klan for organizing
a workshop reserved to victims [33] of racism. 

At a time where racist speech is being banalised in the dominant discourse,
the various forms of censorship that these activists are subject to
obviously validate, if not demonstrate, the reality of the inequalities
they denounce. Thus, as emphasised recently by human rights activist Yasser
Louati (here [34]), or political scientist Jean-François Bayart (there
[35]), the problem actually comes from politicians and editocrats engaging
in a securitarian escalation that plays into the hands of terrorists. 

Comforted by the intellectual resignation of the political or media elites
and by the rise of the self-fulfilling prophecy of a "clash of
civilisations" (the latter being a direct consequence of the former),
security laws have been piling up in the past years. The harmful
consequences of these ineffective laws are being most hardly felt by
marginalised groups identified as being from Muslim culture or immigrant
origins, who are already victims of structural discrimination. Of course,
the forms of racisms and inequalities that target these groups are not, in
and of themselves, a reason to push them towards violent action. However,
they tend to reinforce the ability of terrorist propaganda to act as a
coherent narrative by presenting Western societies - and France especially
- as inherently incapable of offering them a place as rightful citizens and
prospects for a better future. 

Meanwhile, the neofascists of the far-right are also preparing for the
worst. The heads of intelligence services are preaching in the desert to
warn [36] against the "unavoidable" threat of seeing these hateful groups
brutalise part of our fellow citizens, while pointing out the inadequate
means allocated to their monitoring. Meanwhile, hatred is becoming
mainstream in political discourse [37], with the complicity of many
editorial boards. 


In this context, antiracist speech is of crucial importance. Even if we can
disagree with some analysis or proposed modes of action, these activists
deconstruct simplistic reasonings about the "clash of civilizations", of
which neoconservatives and terrorists alike have been taking advantage
since 2001. They rightly remind us that the culturalist, islamophobic or
narrow security-driven interpretative frameworks that are building up after
each wave of attack actually validate the paranoiac delusions of
hate-mongers. They contribute to making visible the daily experiences of
those caught between the Djihadist hammer and the xenophobic anvil. 

The posts of Sihame Assbague, Marwan Muhammad and Philippe Marlière
censored by Facebook aimed to denounce the latent racism in the political
and media response to recent terrorist attacks. Everyone has the right to
criticize these analysis, but in a polity abiding by democratic standards,
we should not doubt their legitimacy, much less censor them. 

Of course, there are other avenues for public expression besides Facebook
on the Internet.5 [38] But network effects [39] are strong. They contribute
to the domination of these big platforms and give them control over whole
segments of the public sphere. Such a monopoly can only be tolerable if it
comes with minimal safeguards protecting free speech. 

These episodes of private censorship might also seem to be isolated cases,
an epiphenomenon that should not raise much concern. But even if we do not
have any transparent information regarding the content takedowns decided by
Internet firms, other symptomatic cases have surfaced in the past months
and years. In France, journalist David Thomson, a specialist of Djihadism
at Radio France International, has been subject to numerous censorships and
punishments [40] of all kinds on Facebook (account suspension,
desactivation of private messages for several days, etc.) because of posts
directly related to his journalist activity. More recently, Facebook has
come under worldwide criticism [41] for censoring a canonic photograph
denouncing the brutality of the US War in Vietnam. 

In light of ongoing policies, such censorship is likely to proliferate in
the future. However, neither antiterrorism nor the fight against
discriminations should justify undermining the rule of law. Freedom of
expression is just as precious to democracy as it is fragile. Now that
censorship is affecting those whose contribution to the public debate is so
urgently needed, we get a better sense of the antidemocratic effects caused
by the state of emergency spreading through the Internet. 

 	* 1. [42] La Quadrature du Net supports the adoption of such rules for
technical intermediaries (that does not have any editorial control),
providing a means of public expression, and that can be described as
"universal" in the sense that they are not addressed to a restricted
community of interests, "community of interest" being defined by the Court
of Cassation [43] as a group of individuals linked by a common affiliation,
aspirations and shared objectives.
 	* 2. [44] These proposals [45] lead to a device that seems complex but
that is balanced: reports of potentially illegal content made on the
platforms are systematically transmitted to those responsible for the
publication (system called "notice-and-notice") and also collected by the
police. For categories of abuse of freedom of expression considered to be
the less serious, a form of amicable settlement would allow the content
publisher to take it down quickly if s/he considers that the content in
question is actually illegal. For categories of the most serious offenses,
preventive action could be initiated by the hosting provider immediately
after the content has been reported, or upon request of police to
immediately suspend access to this litigious content, pending a court
decision that should intervene urgently if the person responsible for the
publication believes that his/her statements fall within the freedom of
expression and wants to restore access to censored content. The latter will
in any case be subject to criminal prosecution if the authorities or
possible plaintiff(s) consider it appropriate, _a fortiori_ if s/he opposed
the removal of content by refusing the amicable agreement. As is it the
case today (even if the provision remains unenforced), abusive reports
would also be punished.
 	* 3. [46] Les Cahiers du Conseil constitutionnel, cahier n° 17, Comment
of the decision nb 2004-496 DC of 10 june 2004 [47].
 	* 4. [48] While case law abuses had led to the situation against which
the Constitutional Council just tried to warn the legislator at the time,
the current majority has reinforced these abuses by legislative additions
extending Article 6 [49] of the LCEN to new offenses.
 	* 5. [50] By the way, activists, journalists or citizens would do better
to avoid giving the exclusivity of their public expression to big
platforms. They should instead only share content published elsewhere on
the Web or use free and decentralised alternatives [51].


La Quadrature du Net is an advocacy group that defends the rights and
freedoms of citizens on the Internet. More specifically, it advocates for
the adaptation of French and European legislations to respect the founding
principles of the Internet, most notably the free circulation of knowledge.

>In addition to its advocacy work, the group also aims to foster a better
understanding of legislative processes among citizens. Through specific and
pertinent information and tools, La Quadrature du Net hopes to encourage
citizens' participation in the public debate on rights and freedoms in the
digital age. 

La Quadrature du Net is supported by French, European and international
NGOs including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Open Society
Institute and Privacy International. 

List of supporting organisations:
https://www.laquadrature.net/en/they-support-la-quadrature-du-net [52] 


contact at laquadrature.net - +33 (0)972 294 426 

https://www.laquadrature.net/en/press-room [53] 

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 _La Quadrature du Net
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Paris, 75020


[1] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship
[2] https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards
[3] https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/mille-communismes/article/280816/soutien-philippe-marliere-suspendu-de-facebook-pour-avoir-defendu-le-burkini
[4] https://www.francebleu.fr/infos/culture-loisirs/apres-facebook-amazon-censure-l-origine-du-monde-de-gustave-courbet-1458581710
[5] http://www.liberation.fr/direct/element/facebook-censure-une-photo-de-statues-seins-nus_30987/
[6] http://tracks.arte.tv/fr/coups-de-hashtags-contre-la-pudibonderie
[7] https://www.eff.org/fr/deeplinks/2015/02/absurd-automated-notices-illustrate-abuse-dmca-takedown-process
[8] http://blog.fdn.fr/?post/2013/02/17/Loi-de-d%C3%A9fense-de-la-libert%C3%A9-d-expression
[9] https://archive.is/pH9Xs
[10] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnote1_6ral1bh
[11] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnote2_kuf3yt4
[12] http://www.nextinpact.com/news/100630-la-liberte-dexpression-et-ses-abus-quand-senateurs-sattaquent-a-internet.htm
[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Commerce_Directive_%28EU%29
[14] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnote3_ifbhm11
[15] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnote4_qr7ni1c
[16] http://www.vie-publique.fr/actualite/panorama/texte-discussion/projet-loi-renforcant-dispositions-relatives-lutte-contre-terrorisme.html
[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Third_Republic
[18] http://www.nextinpact.com/news/95920-l-onu-preoccupee-par-loi-sur-renseignement-et-celle-sur-terrorisme.htm
[19] http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2016/04/15/cest-confirme-blocage-sites-sert-a-rien-lutter-contre-terrorisme-263770
[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_Act_%28France%29
[21] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/french-state-of-emergency-overbidding-mass-surveillance
[22] http://www.lesechos.fr/journal20150423/lec2_high_tech_et_medias/02124922454-terrorisme-accord-entre-la-france-et-les-geants-du-net-1113723.php
[23] http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/07/europol-iru-extremist-content-censorship-policing/
[24] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/terrorism-directive-LIBE
[25] http://encyclopedic.co.uk/inside-facebooks-outsourced-anti-porn-and-gore-brigade-where-camel-toes-are-more-offensive-than-crushed-heads/
[26] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-internet-extremism-video-exclusive-idUSKCN0ZB00M
[27] https://blogs.mediapart.fr/louis-georges-tin/blog/260416/reponse-laurent-joffrin
[28] http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/cri/2015-2016/20160175.asp#P769019
[29] http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/manuel-valls/manuel-valls-interdiction-burkini-islam-laicite_b_11865808.html
[30] https://twitter.com/s_assbague/status/753945677760196608
[31] http://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2016/07/19/lutte-contre-les-discours-haineux-facebook-et-twitter-proches-d-un-accord-avec-des-associations_4971774_4408996.html
[32] http://www.20minutes.fr/insolite/1914099-20160827-twitter-licra-compare-ku-klux-klan-camp-decolonial-ca-fait-polemique
[33] http://contre-attaques.org/magazine/article/camp-d-ete
[34] https://blogs.mediapart.fr/yasser-louati/blog/260516/lalliance-objective-entre-terrorisme-et-islamophobie
[35] http://www.liberation.fr/debats/2016/07/15/le-tout-securitaire-sert-ceux-qui-nous-frappent_1466355
[36] https://wiki.laquadrature.net/Auditions_rapport_13_novembre#Risque_que_repr.C3.A9sente_l.27extr.C3.AAme_droite
[37] https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/200716/apres-nice-la-droite-au-dela-de-la-republique
[38] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnote5_iskealp
[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect
[40] http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2016/06/21/facebook-journaliste-david-thomson-piquet-pendant-trois-jours-264416#
[41] https://www.article19.org/join-the-debate.php/251/view/
[42] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnoteref1_6ral1bh
[43] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_of_Cassation_%28France%29
[44] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnoteref2_kuf3yt4
[45] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/censorship-and-freedom-of-expression
[46] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnoteref3_ifbhm11
[47] http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/root/bank/download/2004496DCccc_496dc.pdf
[48] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnoteref4_qr7ni1c
[49] https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do;jsessionid=C380DAB843B515579F40EEF5131576BC.tpdila12v_2?idSectionTA=JORFSCTA000000906395&cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000801164&dateTexte=29990101
[50] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/On-Facebook-antiracists-censorship#footnoteref5_iskealp
[51] https://prism-break.org/fr/all/#social-networks
[52] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/they-support-la-quadrature-du-net
[53] https://www.laquadrature.net/en/press-room
[54] http://www.laquadrature.net/civicrm/mailing/optout?reset=1&jid=274&qid=117620&h=5ae40d63c79b5fb7

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