New French regulation impose obligations on platforms to combat fake news

Written on 8 Jul 2019

France has recently adopted a set of rules to fight against the spread of “fake news” on digital platforms, especially during electoral periods. The “anti-fake news” act (the Act), dated 22 December 2018, entered into force on the 15th of April 2019.

Under this Act, inaccurate or misleading pieces of information based on facts that can compromise the outcome of an election are deemed “fake news”.

This new law applies to platforms with at least five million unique visitors each month and imposes transparency obligations, some of which are only applicable during election periods.

During election periods

From three months before an election date until the results day, platforms must provide the following information in a fair and transparent manner to users:

  • the identity of the individuals or entities (and, if applicable, the person that such individual or entity acts on behalf of) that pays fees to the platform in exchange of the promotion of news content;
  • the amount paid when it exceeds €100 (excluding VAT); and
  • the use of personal data in the context of the promotion of such news content.

The Act also makes it possible for any person, with an interest to do so, to file an emergency injunction for a news story to be removed where its contents are obviously inaccurate, disseminated deliberately on a massive scale and may compromise the outcome of an election. The court must rule within 48 hours on such applications. The conditions for implementing such injunctions, however, still remain very unclear.

Ongoing obligations

The Act also imposes ongoing obligations on the platforms that the Act applies to and the French Audio-Visual Council can issue recommendations to such platforms to implement these obligations. The Council has published draft guidelines on the scope of practical consequences of these obligations. These guidelines are currently undergoing consultation.

The ongoing obligations include platforms: implementing a tool to report fake news; publicly disclosing algorithms; promoting content from press agencies and audio-visual communication services; fighting against accounts spreading fake news; disclosing the nature, origin and conditions of publication / broadcasting content; and taking measures to educate users in relation to media and news.

In addition, platforms using certain algorithms will need to disclose certain statistics relating to the accessibility of content with and without such algorithms. Finally, platforms also need to appoint an individual as a point of contact for French authorities.

Why this matters:

This law places responsibility for platforms to ensure that the origin of information is clear to users. Non-compliant online platforms may face a criminal penalty of maximum one year imprisonment and a financial fine up to 375,000.