France's President Emmanuel Macron
22 Nov 2018 12:00

Contentious French Law Gives Judges Authority to Order Removal of ‘Fake News’

This Tuesday the French parliament approved a new law that allows judges to order the removal of online ‘fake news’ during the three months prior to an election

Charlotte Darrell
By Charlotte DarrellStaff Writer

The new ruling, conceived by President Emmanuel Macron and twice rejected by the senate previous to its passing, empowers judges to order the taking down of “inaccurate or deceptive allegations” in the run-up to elections. This is due to be implemented before the European Parliament elections next May.

Candidates and political parties will be able to appeal to a judge for an emergency injunction to remove false information online. The French state broadcasting authority, Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA), will also have the power to take down media owned or influenced by foreign states during electoral campaigns.

The law, which is considered the first of its kind in Western Europe, doesn’t come without its criticisms, and cries of censorship have come from both left- and right-wing opponents.

French politician and former member of the National Front (now known as the National Rally) Julien Rochedy said in a Tweet: “The French state finally has a monopoly on truth and mass diffusion.”

Constance Le Grip, French Republican Group politician, echoed Rochedy’s concerns, saying: “Breaches of the freedom of the press, of expression and of opinion, the risk of self-censorship, the risk of a thought police, are among those that we see on the horizon.”

Russian media channel RT has scathingly condemned the law in an article entitled ‘Welcome to dictatorship?’, saying that it “clearly targets foreign media” and could “jeopardize democracy and censor press”.

Relations between the president and the Russian media outlet have been tense since the 2017 presidential elections when Macron said that RT was used as a vessel of propaganda against him.

Macron defended the recent events during the annual Internet Governance Forum in Paris last week, saying: “This is the sine qua non condition for a free, open and secure internet, as envisioned by its founding fathers.”

Franck Riester, the culture minister, also told parliament before its final vote: “At every election, everywhere in the world, false information is spread massively and rapidly on social media. It undermines the freedom of every citizen to form their opinions.”

With fears of increased censorship, will we see an influx of French VPN users seeking internet freedom? If you’re interested in knowing more about how VPNs can unlock government-blocked content read our guide, What is a VPN?.