Reporters Without Borders files complaint against Facebook for ‘deceptive commercial practices’

Using numerous examples and studies, RSF is accusing the digital giant of not having sufficiently moderated erroneous publications and other "fake news", including the controversial documentary "Hold-up" which has not been flagged as "fake news" despite attracting millions of views. [Thought Catalog/Unsplash]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a complaint against Facebook for “deceptive commercial practices” on Monday (22 March), accusing the social media giant of not respecting its commitments to fight disinformation and moderate online hate, particularly targeting journalists. EURACTIV France reports.

“It is important to show with this complaint that the commercial advertising that is being done, which is supposed to accredit the seriousness of [Facebook’s] commitment, is anything but safe and error-free,” RSF editor Pauline Adès-Mevel told EURACTIV France.

She referred to Facebook’s commitment to the reliability of information and its promises of a “safe environment”, which are found in its terms of service, which the worldwide press freedom NGO hopes to see respected.

“Facebook’s commercial practices, both with regard to the commitments it makes and the advertising it disseminates [ed. with regard, in particular, to its campaign against disinformation in COVID-19 times], are likely to mislead consumers about the quality and conditions of the service it offers and as such constitute misleading commercial practices,” said the complaint, seen by EURACTIV France.

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RSF’s teams have reportedly found numerous shortcomings on the part of Facebook. Using numerous examples and studies, they accused the digital giant of not having sufficiently moderated erroneous publications and other ‘fake news’. The documentary Hold-up, for instance, has not always been flagged as fake news despite attracting millions of views.

The group has also pointed out that Facebook has made fight against disinformation one of the brand’s flagship values but has failed to act upon that commitment.

“The company must bring its public communication in line with the reality of its practices,” said Adès-Mevel, who wants “criminal consumer law” to be applied to this “deception”.

“We hope that a preliminary investigation will be opened,” she said, calling on the Paris prosecutor to “take responsibility”.

Facebook told EURACTIV France: “When we find hateful posts on Facebook and Instagram, we take a zero tolerance approach and remove them. Unfortunately, zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidences, but we are investing billions of dollars each year in people and technology to keep our platform safe”.

No measures taken against threats targetting journalists

Adès-Mevel also criticised Facebook “for not taking action on the very serious threats that have been made against journalists”, citing the examples of Charlie Hedbo, l’Union-Ardennais, and Quotidien.

On this point, Facebook confirmed that it is aware that journalists “are at a higher risk of online harm because their profession requires high levels of online engagement over highly charged social issues”.

“In July 2020, we announced that we would further protect personal Facebook profiles of journalists against online abuse in the US, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. On Feb 11th, 2021 we’ve expanded that to 23 other EMEA countries” the internet giant added.

Facebook France organised a ‘conversation’ with the press about fighting disinformation last Wednesday (17 March). During the discussion, Facebook France’s head of public relations, Anton’Maria Battesti, said Facebook will never position itself as an “arbiter of truth”, but it takes its role seriously.

Facebook’s teams had also insisted that the platform would strictly remove any content that could give rise to risks of violence or physical harm.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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