Cédric O, France's new digital minister, met Twitter executives on the sidelines of a G7 meeting dealing with terrorism and the internet
Cédric O, France's new digital minister, met Twitter executives on the sidelines of a G7 meeting dealing with terrorism and the internet © AFP

The French government has persuaded Twitter to allow official advertisements promoting voter participation in next month’s European elections after the social media group had blocked the campaign to comply with a new French law against fake news.

“We have now decided to allow campaigns aimed at encouraging voter participation,” Twitter said on Thursday.

The company said it had previously prohibited “all issue-based advertising targeting France, which included ‘Get Out The Vote’-type campaigns” after the enactment of the law on information manipulation in December last year.

Emmanuel Macron’s government has taken a leading role in Europe in trying to limit the political and social damage caused by fake news disseminated on social media — and in making big tech groups such as Facebook, Amazon and Google pay what it sees as a fair level of taxes in the countries where they earn their profits.

Paris failed to persuade its EU partners to introduce such tax rules for big tech but is introducing its own national law and co-operating with the US to enforce a minimum corporate tax among the industrialised nations of the OECD. France also wants European legislation to ensure the rapid removal of content promoting terror.

In Washington on Thursday, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, met his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and urged France not to impose its planned digital services tax because it would hurt big US tech companies and their French customers, the state department said.

France has previously said it would withdraw the 3 per cent turnover tax on local revenues once a similar, internationally agreed tax was in place.

The French government welcomed Twitter’s change of heart after a meeting in Paris between company executives and Cédric O, the new digital minister, on the sidelines of a G7 meeting dealing with terrorism and the internet.

“The aim of the [fake news] law is in no way to stop platforms from distributing certain content but simply to allow internet users to be informed of the fact that this type of content is paid for,” a statement from Mr O and the ministers of the interior and of culture said. “In an election period, it’s about the ability of voters to make an informed choice.”

In its statement, the government suggested that social media groups, particularly Twitter, had more work to do in promoting transparency about the origins of material posted online.

“Several other platforms have already implemented these simple transparency obligations, which shows that they are technically feasible. Some have even decided to apply this transparency rule in other countries.”

France’s fake news laws oblige large internet platforms, in the three months before an election, to identify who paid for sponsored content and how much they paid.

The main concerns about social media content in western democracies such as France focus on the possible manipulation of voters during elections, especially by outside powers such as Russia, and on terrorists’ use of the internet to attract publicity and recruits.

France said the importance of removing terrorist content was underlined by the rightwing extremist attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, “of which the images were shared millions of times before being withdrawn”.

Twitter said following its change of policy that it would “continue to promote and protect the integrity of #EUelection2019 conversations in the coming months”.

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