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France: Reporters Without Borders file lawsuit accusing Facebook of “deceptive commercial practices”

"RSF files lawsuit in France accusing Facebook of “deceptive commercial practices”, 22 March 2021

In a lawsuit filed with the public prosecutor in Paris on 22 march 2021, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses Facebook of “deceptive commercial practices” on the grounds that the social media company’s promises to provide a “safe” and “error-free” online environment are contradicted by the large-scale proliferation of hate speech and false information on its networks.

Using expert analyses, personal testimony and statements from former Facebook employees, RSF’s lawsuit demonstrates that the California-based company’s undertakings to its consumers are largely mendacious, and that it allows disinformation and hate speech to flourish on its network [...], contrary to the claims made in its terms of service and through its ads.

To condemn this large-scale, unprecedented phenomenon, RSF filed a lawsuit in France, where consumer law is especially well suited to deal with the issue... As Facebook’s terms of service are the same all over the world, a court ruling in France on its deceptive practices has the potential for a global impact. RSF is considering filing similar lawsuits in other countries.

This suit concerns Facebook France and Facebook Ireland. Under articles L121-2 to L121-5 of the French consumer code, a commercial practice is considered deceptive “if it is based on false claims, statements or representations or is likely to mislead,” especially with regard to “the essential characteristics of the goods or service” or “the extent of the advertiser’s promises”. This offence is punishable by a fine up to 10% of annual turnover...

In its terms of service, Facebook undertakes to exercise professional diligence in providing “a safe, secure and error-free environment,” one that cannot be used to “share anything (...) that is unlawful, misleading, discriminatory or fraudulent”. In its Community Standards, it undertakes to “significantly reduce the distribution” of false information. And in an ad published in French media  in early 2021, Facebook claims to offer “precise information in real-time to better combat the pandemic” and says it is working with governments and international organisations to “share reliable information about Covid-19”...

First Draft, a non-profit organisation founded in 2015 to combat online disinformation, recently identifiedFacebook as “the hub of vaccine conspiracy theories” in French-speaking communities...

With regard to combatting online hatred, RSF provides two legal officer’s reports (of 80 and 73 pages, respectively). The first concerns the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s Facebook page... RSF registered dozens of comments containing insults, threats and calls for violence against the magazine and its journalists.

The second concerns the hate messages and threats against journalists working on the French TV programme Quotidien...

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